Firefighters are the last line of defense, baby!

Gau-fo-ying-as-the-light-goes-out

Until you put your life up as collateral, you don’t know what lifesaving is about.

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Title
As the Light Goes Out  (2014) 
Also known as
 Gau Fo Ying Hung
Genre
Action,   Thriller,   Tragedy
Written by
 Derek Kwok & Jill Leung 
Directed by
Starring
Nicholas Tse,   Yau Pong-Chiu,   Shawn Yue,   Simon Yam,   Hu Jun
Country of Origin
Hong Kong   &   China
Running time
116 minutes

oh! … brief

As Christmas eve draws close, the firefighters of Pillar Point Division in Hong Kong are called out to assist in a fire at a winery. They succeed in ending the blaze, but, the building and its pipework are positioned far too close to a gas line of Hong Kong’s main power station.

oh! … talks film

Oh boy, was this an intense film! I loved every second of it, and given the mixed reactions of professional film critics, I can’t be the only person who was captivated by the smoky cinematic depiction of a massive firefighting battle?

But, I understand why critics are sceptical. This type of story has been done time and again by Hong Kong, perhaps Lifeline being the best so far.

As The Light Goes Out could have travelled down the boring road to becoming a simple tale of the fear, anxiety, and guilt that a close-knit group of firefighters are confronted with when battling flames, smoke and rescuing lives, thankfully it doesn’t.

Instead, the screenplay writers that include Derek Kowk, Jill Leung and Philip Yung, depict the rivalry and cunning (between three firefighters of Pillar Point Division) alongside the bureaucracy and politics at play, superbly. Derek Kwok is known for inventing bizarre characters with unusual dramatic arcs, he did it again for this production. And I relished watching these characters come to life with exceptional performances. The writers even went further by highlighting the physical trials and psychological dilemmas of each character with raw authenticity. The end result, each character, even the minor ones, emerge as average human beings who step into the role of hero every now and then.  Their faults largely lie in their complacency, insecurity and being too trusting, but, none are intrinsically nefarious. It was mind-blowing!!

Another success of the writing team is the genuine depiction of the extensive struggle firefighter’s face daily to perform their job. The writers explored the emotions of the three protagonists and exhibited their indifferences and insecurities in grim flashbacks, with lots of atmospheric lighting and whorling smoky scenes.

The writing of character Hai Yang’s dramatic monologue explaining that firefighters hallucinate when immersed in black-out smoke was intuitively written to unite all the firefighters and their struggles. Brilliant!

“On a fire site, the biggest terror is in the thick smoke. You have no idea where danger lurks. With only the sound of your breath in the darkness, it’s like entering a ghost town. No matter how many comrades you have, ready to stick together through thick and thin, you will face your demons, alone in the dark.”
“Huǒchǎng zuì kǒngbù dì dìfāng, jiùshì zài nóng yān lǐmiàn. Nǐ yǒngyuǎn dōu bù zhīdào wéixiǎn zài nǎlǐ, zhǐ néng tīng dào zìjǐ de hūxī shēng hé yǎnqián de yīpiàn qīhēi, jiù xiàng jìnle guǐchéng yīyàng. Wúlùn shēnbiān yǒu duōshǎo rén gēn nǐ gòng jìntuì, dàn zài hēi’àn miànqián, nǐ zhǐ néng yīgè rén qù miàn duì. Zài zhège shíhòu, nǐ xīnlǐ xiǎng shénme, jiù huì kàn dào shénme.”
“火场最恐怖的地方,就是在浓烟里面。你永远都不知道危险在哪里,只能听到自己的呼吸声和眼前的一片漆黑,就像进了鬼城一样。无论身边有多少人跟你共进退,但在黑暗面前,你只能一个人去面对。在这个时候,你心里想什么,就会看到什么。”

How the writers used smoke as a metaphor really appealed to me. The smoke throughout is portrayed like a live, breathing creature, winding its way as if hunting its victims and the older firefighter talks repeatedly about the importance of overcoming, escaping, running from and conquering it. It was insightful to write the smoke into the screenplay in this manner.

If I had to criticise the writing of the film it would be the timeframe in which this all takes place. The way the screenplay is narrated, everything takes place in one day and night and based on everything happening that is unrealistic, in my opinion. All this and the death of one protagonist seems stretched thin – there are only so many daylight hours and time during the night.

Combined with a solid screenplay, Derek Kowk delivers an elaborate, aesthetically flamboyant 3-D display of adept young men battling an inferno. His pyrotechny for this production is evocative with their mastery and acute menacing atmosphere.

Roger Li, a master in stunt choreography, worked hard to design realistic stunts that turned the firefighters into nimble contortionists – I mean using the body of a firefighter as a human slab to cross a fractured pathway was eye-opening. You must watch this film, even if it is only to appreciate how amazing the action stunts are. And there are a few that will leave you gasping. Yes, it was that intense!

Jason Kwan, the cinematographer, captured every moment with mastered artistry. The detailed scenes of chaos were made that much more intense through striking wide-angle shots within the crumbling engine room and warehouse. Then editor Wong Hoi took all the film and edited it, creating the visual masterpiece we can appreciate. Am I gushing? Hell yes! I appreciated every aspect of this film.

The aesthetic, editing and strong character archetypes worked in favour of this production which is surprisingly emotionally powerful.

I was surprised by the musical score. I expected far more intense and haunting pieces, but the startling nostalgic melody by Bizet during the optical illusion close to the end was tear-jerking. Just wow!

Aspects I typically don’t touch with other reviews I must speak to for this production. The production design was astounding. Eric Lam maintained a homogenous look throughout, using heavy black and cool greys, the smoky scenes were only more intense because of the sound mix – those haunting heavy panting and the unearthly disquiet was eerie and honest.

The cast for this film was wonderful. As a group, they delivered authenticity in their depiction of the personality clashes and their combined chemistry and bromance was stupefying. You couldn’t have asked for a better group of men to play the main characters and supporting roles. The solid writing of the screenplay and the narration for the actors and actresses helped significantly in their ability to interpret and inhabit their characters.

The lead of the three protagonists is Sam Ho Wing-sam (Sam), the leader, a conflicted guy with a chip on his shoulder. He’s played by Nicholas Tse, whose performance is convincing and emotional. Nicholas Tse delivered his brooding character with finesse and quietly understated acting. Caught in conflict with two other characters, Nicholas Tse interpreted his role and put effort and thought into emoting the feelings through nuanced facial expressions and body language.

The chemistry between Nicholas Tse’s character, Sam Ho Wing-sam, and Andy On’s character, Yip Chi-fai, is electrifying – such animosity and broiling anger between former classmates visible in their stance and tone with each other and the failing respect they share.

Yau Pong-Chiu played Yau Pong-chiu (Chill) was a fast favourite for me. Caught in the middle of the angst between Sam Ho Wing-sam and Yip Chi-fair his conflict is obvious. He prefers Sam, but when things go awry, he starts to dislike him. You Pong-Chiu was mesmerising in his performance and depicted all the layers of his character with mastery – the hero father and firefighter, the loyal friend, the conflicted colleague.

Hai Yang, a newcomer to the team was played by Hu Jun (Ocean). In this stereotypical noble role, Hu Jun brought a muted emotional performance that was entrancing and the winner by my books. His stony delivery of the monologue written for his character was poignant.

Andy On who played Yip Chi-fai is the classmate and ‘boss’ to the lead Sam Ho Wing-sam. He’s being punished and demoted and transferred out of Pillar Point Division. Andy On was impressive in this role. He has this sultry, dark sexiness about him that is quite exhilarating, but in this case, he’s the double-crossing bad guy. No! Not really, but it might appear that way to some. His performance was on par with many of his other exceptional performances. He brings the right balance to his character and emotes well, sometimes excessive, but understandable in the role he’s playing. He can do weird things with his eyebrows when he’s emoting, watch closely and you’ll catch it!

Of all the main characters Hu Jun’s, Hai Yang, was the most memorable and by far the best performer!

oh! … sidekicks

Jackie Chan makes a cameo appearance in this production as himself! No film coming out of Hong Kong should be without a Jackie Chan cameo. Okay, I’m kidding! I love Jackie Chan, but the cameo seemed misplaced and more about wanting to ensure sales of tickets, more than what he brought to the film.

Mr Man, the director of the power station was played by Patrick Tam. The character kind of reminds me of the bad guy on the Train to Busan – you know who I’m thinking about right? Forget his name right now and I’m too lazy to Google it. Anyway, Patrick Tam did a good job at play the overconfident know-it-all who quickly becomes the scaredy-cat and demanding victim.

Yan Lin, the strongest, but not the only female in this production was played by Michelle Bai. She is convincing in her role as an employee of the power station, and one who talks down to Mr Man. Michelle Bai and performed well. I would have liked to see the backstory to the power station played out more so we could see more aspects of her character, but we don’t get what we want all the time.

Cheung Man Kin, another power station employee was played by William Chan, who’s just an adorably good looking young kid. It’s a good thing he has acting skills to back up his good looks. He did a fine job in his role.

oh! … that’s a wrap

If you’ve got this far in this review then you already know that I got a kick out of this film. In fact, several. I was impressed with the narrative, the cinematography, the editing, the production, the wardrobe. Everything came together to create this phenomenal, intense and poignant production. There were some haunting scenes, a moving monologue and excellent performances by some talented actors.

With any catastrophic fire, the largest threat to living beings will always be the smoke. With thick, black smoke, you cannot see and therefore cannot know what dangers lurk beyond your outstretched hands. The smoke also deadens sound, so you hear your breath in your ears. This film painted this exactly as it should be with an honest replication of what could happen.

The female characters were benched for this film! Ha! I like that! No romance or girly distraction at all! But, this stands to reason, this film was all about the men, the brotherhood, the camaraderie, the angst and the sacrifices they make. While likely saw flaws, I did too, I was able to ignore them as I was captivated the story.

I recommend this film for anyone who likes disaster-styled dramatic films that incorporate human element and psyche. I would watch this again. Oh, wait, I already did!

Enjoy!

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