Story: Inspector Manfred (Leon Lai) isn't his former self anymore since his wife has been killed. His career is going nowhere because he
has no ambition climbing up the ladder and so he simply tries to maintain law and order on the streets. And when it comes to criminals he
doesn't have any scruple. Manfred's newest case involves a killed prostitute but at the same time he helps out his colleague Kee (Richie Ren),
a career-driven inspector, to get into the possession of a cellphone on which important information of one his informants is stored.
While Manfred finds out that his subordinate Cheung-On (Liu Kai-Chi) is somehow involved in the murder case and is still searching for the
culprit he and his men suddenly get into a bloody gunfire with a group of mainland Chinese who may in some way be connected to the case. It turns
out that the murder of the prostitute as well as a robbery and the killing of a policeman some time ago are connected to each other.
When eventually it becomes apparent that Kee's case is also part of all this Inspector Manfred doesn't know who to trust anymore.
Review: Dante Lam is one of the most overrated Hong Kong directors. This doesn't mean that he makes bad movies, no, he is in fact capable
of shooting nice B-movie flicks. However, you always get the impression with him that he is playing in the A-league. Maybe that is because of
his technical finesse that always makes his movies look better than they actually are, but on the other hand maybe it is because he is one of the few
directors nowadays who can deliver a decently solid HK-action movie. "Fire of Conscience" underlines this impression once more. Technically the film
is top-notch, yet, when it comes to the story there are some serious problems, because Lam tries to squeeze in too much of everything. This mostly
concerns the characters. It's very laudable that the director of an action movie actually tries to shift the focus more on the characters, but
Lam simply doesn't succeed here, because he divides his focus upon too many characters so that everyone gets just a little part of it in the end.
Those who suffer from it are the action fans as the action sometimes falls a bit by the wayside despite some nice shoot-outs.
The first pictures of "Fire of Conscience" give you an impressive introduction to what's playing an important role in the story unfolding. In frozen black and white pictures through which the camera movies fluently we get to see three different cases as if time itself was frozen for the viewer, giving us the opportunity to walk through the pictures in order to get a better overview over things. Refined with CGI-effects these are one of the best freeze-time-sequences ever seen. Thankfully, this is a tool the movie doesn't reuse during the rest of the film and misuses it as so many other directors would have done.
On a technical level the vivid camera movements deserve some praise as they always catch the action in a fitting manner. Together with the polished look, the neonlid streets of Hong Kong at night and some more gritty shots this creates the kind of atmosphere we learned to love from Hong Kong action movies.
However, problems arise when it comes to the story development. What has been put into a relationship at the beginning thanks to a nice trick, that is the three cases, proves to be highly problematic when it comes to the evolvement of a red thread running through all the cases. Also, it's pretty difficult for the viewer at times to keep track of what's happening. That's because we are bombarded with too many information, especially concerning the characters and side characters. Everyone gets his screen time here, be it Cheung-On who is somehow related to the killing of a prostitute, is divorced and tries to keep up a good relationship to his daughter, to Wang Baoqiang in a role as a bomb maker whose pregnant wife is used as leverage to make him work for some gangsters, and Kee's wife who is played by pop singer Vivian Hsu in an unthankful role or the most outstanding side character portrayed by Michelle Ye as Manfred's partner. The list goes on. Thus, it's no surprise that the film often loses track of what's really important, which is Kee and Manfred as well as the actual cases.
Leon Lai ("Moonlight in Tokyo", "Heroic Duo") tries to embody a more dark character this time, but you somehow can't really buy this new self from him at any time, a beard doesn't work wonders either. His acting is too wooden and therefore he hasn't the viewer's sympathies. When it comes to Kee that is a different matter, though, because even if it becomes apparent pretty much at the beginning that he has without a doubt some skeletons in his closet and belongs to the bad guys, we sometimes pity him, too. Richie Ren's ("Breaking News") cool and charismatic performance makes Kee look more human than you would have imagined from a rather introverted individual as him. The story's evolvement is supposed to lead the two to a showdown in which they stand on different sides, but that's just where the film disappoints. The story's development is presented in a bumpy and incoherent fashion so that we are almost bored when the finale kicks in. It gets even worse because the finale proves to be a gigantic anticlimax. The whole thing gets more unsatisfying when towards the end Lam tries to turn the corner and explain the meaining of the movie's title, which makes things more "profound" (if you want to call the rather clumsy monologue at the end that) than what you would find appropriate for such a movie.
Luckily, there are some nice action scenes. Especially the shootout at the restaurant is exciting to watch. The style is best described with "back to the roots". Glass is bursting everywhere and there are hail of bullets and grenades coming to use on every corner. Here, Dante Lam can show his true strength as he proves that shootouts don't just need to look like mindless firing on screen and he does so without having to resort to over-stylisation the kind we know of John Woo or also Johnnie To. Sadly, the action is scattered throughout the movie rather uneven and as already stated the ending is especially disappointing, even though the element of fire has been worked in quite nicely.
"Fire of Conscience" is undoubtfully more graceful, or let's just say less clumsy, than Lam's "The Sniper". As an action film that runs out of steam towards the end this is enough to make it recommendable, and we can just hope that director Lam can show his potential, that shines through when it comes to the technical realization, in a film that offers a more even mix of character development, story and action in the near future.