Fantastic Fest Review: 'Fire of Conscience'
I’ve been very excited that so many Asian action films are in the Fantastic Fest lineup. I love martial arts and Hong Kong action, although one subgenre that doesn’t do much for me is the Hong Kong cop movie. Fire of Conscience is one of those, and if that’s your pet genre than I’d imagine this one is a solid entry, but not for me.
Manfred (Leon Lai) is a tough cop who beats up perps because they deserve it. Kee (Richie Ren) is a more optimistic inspector with a baby on the way. Those two and Manfred’s team of cops (Michelle Ye and Kai Chi Liu) pursue a case of drugs, bombs and money.
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The action is more gritty cop work than operatic or martial arts. They chase after suspects and throw things to try to slow them down. Gunfights are really destructive, not a graceful bullet ballet. That’s all fine but it means the spectacle itself is not an event. It’s just no fun.
You have to really care about the story and the characters to be involved in gritty kind of action, and I’m not. So some cops have impure motives. That’s no profound surprise. So Manfred lost his wife and child. I know that has more cultural significance in China but over here it’s just backstory. That’s your trauma so you go out and kick some ass to numb the pain.
This is the usual stock and trade of procedural crime movies, particularly the Asian ones. So Fire of Conscience delivers what’s expected, it coasts without really delivering above and beyond. It boasts an impressive fiery finish, but even the outrageous things that happen in the climax have also been done in other, more creative movies.
The film is shot with shaky handheld cameras. The recent Hollywood tradition has made it around the world. I really hate these movies where they shake the camera around as if that makes it more exciting. It’s aggravating in Fire of Conscience but at least the shots remain in focus. Green Zone couldn’t even do that.
It turns out Fire of Conscience is a literal title. There is fire in the movie and there is also conscience. So if you want to see fire and conscience, maybe you will enjoy Fire of Conscience. However, there is not much more to Fire of Conscience than some simple fire and conscience.