Tuesday, November 18, 2014

As the Light Goes Out: HK’s Bravest

They love their firefighters in Hong Kong. It is easy to understand why when you do the math. Hong Kong has the world’s fourth highest population density, concentrated in a mere 426 square miles, built straight up into the sky. In such an environment, fire equals bad. Ordinarily, no conflagration could withstand the collective manliness of the HKFD, but all bets are off when one of their family members is trapped within the mother of all electrical fires in Derek Kwok’s As the Light Goes Out (trailer here), which releases today on DVD and digital platforms from Well Go USA.

This is supposed to Ho Wing-sam’s last duty day before transferring out of the Lung Kwu Tan station. Frankly, he has just been marking time since he was passed over for promotion, in favor of his more political astute former pal, Yip Chi-fai. His crusty old mentor Lee Pui-to is also due to retire imminently. Factor in the fact that it is Christmas Eve and you know it will not be long before a four-alarm fire breaks out.

Frustratingly, things would not have been so bad if it weren’t for careerist CYAing and denial. When Sam’s team gets the call for a winery fire in the New Territories, they initially extinguish it relatively swiftly. The responsible Ho starts taking a few additional preventative measures until Yip pressures him to return to the station, to help spit-polish everything for the chief-of-chief’s visit. Unfortunately, the winery is a little too close to the septic tank, which is a little too close to Hong Kong’s natural gas pipeline, which runs directly into the main power station. By the time Ho figures this out, the winery has reignited and the die is cast.

At least he has some good men to face down the colossal inferno, including old Lee, whose withering stare is usually sufficient to make most fires fizzle out. Despite his attempted hazing, the veteran fireman also quickly warms to Ocean, a forty-two year old immigrant rookie and former Mainland firefighter, who is still able to pass his physical training with perfect marks. He is assigned to help power plant engineer Ying Lan close the main pipeline, but her short-sighted boss over-rules their efforts at the plant level, making everything go boom. As if the stakes were not high enough already, the son of “Chill” Yau Bong-chiu, the firefighter who took the fall for Ho and Yip during an administrative inquiry, walked away from his school tour group and is now lost in the burning power plant.

ATLGO makes Backdraft look like an Oscar Wilde drawing room comedy. This is the ultimate one-darned-thing-after-another disaster film, featuring almost as many big name stars as The Towering Inferno. The fire truly rages and when particulate matter gets in the air, it become a massively combustive spectacle. Yet for sheer lunacy, nothing tops Jackie Chan’s early cameo (you’ll know it when you see it).

There will be no metrosexual whininess in ATLGO. Even though his mustache is kind of wimpy, Nicholas Tse is all man as “Sam” Ho, whereas Hu Jun is simply all Hulk as Ocean. Yet, nothing is stronger than Simon Yam’s attitude as the crafty old Lee. Fire-fighting is clearly still a man’s business in HK, but Michelle Bai Bing’s Ying convincingly supplies the brains of the film. Add the likes of Andy On, Shawn Yue, and Michelle Wai and you have no shortage of romantic leads playing supporting roles.

ATLGO is a rousingly old-fashioned film about heroism and sacrifice, but it also has a healthy contemporary contempt for bureaucracy and authority. It is sort of the best of both eras. Highly recommended for fans of fire-fighting action, As the Lights Go Out is now available on DVD, BluRay, and digital VOD from Well Go USA.