Review: LIFELINE 十萬火急 (1997) | Casey's Movie Mania | Movie Reviews, Features & Others

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Review: LIFELINE 十萬火急 (1997)

Review: LIFELINE 十萬火急 (1997)

Of all the fire station in Hong Kong, the Chi Wan team, headed by the no-nonsense veteran firefighter, Yau Sui (Lau Ching-Wan), is branded as a notoriously unlucky and "jinx" squad of lifesavers. Their "jinx" gets even worse after their current superior is seriously injured during a supposedly simple rescue in a falling construction lift and ends up with half of his body entirely paralysed. Then along comes their new superior, a notoriously by-the-book Cheung Man Kit (Alex Fong Chung-Sun) who particularly dislikes his disorganised team. At the first part of the film, we learn about this group of close-knit firefighters going through their usual ordeal of rescuing jobs as well as their personal lives. That includes Yau Sui, who is subsequently falling in love with a pathetic doctor named Annie Chan (Carmen Lee Yeuk-Tung) after rescuing her from an attempted suicide jump. Then there's the only female firefighter in the team named Sunny (Ruby Wong Cheuk-Ling), who has a marital problem with his frustrating husband demands her to have sex without using a condom because he wants them to have a baby. But Sunny doesn't want to fulfil his wish yet since her line of profession requires a lot of sacrifices and full commitment. Cheung Man Kit, in the meantime, is frustrated that his ex-wife demands him to take over their English-speaking daughter since she is going to remarry soon.

REVIEW: Hong Kong's answer to Ron Howard's BACKDRAFT (1991). Though not as great as that Hollywood counterpart, director Johnnie To's insider's look at the dangerous profession of firefighters is credible and solid entertainment nonetheless.

Yau Nai-Hoi's screenplay pretty much concentrates on these characters' slice-of-life and really this movie isn't much of a plot-driven kind of structure. 

Still, we do feel and related to the trials and tribulations these characters has to go through with recognisably human emotions, though the word "melodrama" remains somewhere in the place. The cast is throughout credible, with Lau Ching-Wan and Alex Fong Chung-Sun perfectly typecast in their common heroism roles. But newcomer Ruby Wong Cheuk-Ling is certainly promising as the conflicted Sunny who is forced to juggle between hectic job and her personal problem at home. No doubt her emotionally intense performance deserved a recognition for Best New Artist nomination (who lost to Sam Lee in Fruit Chan's MADE IN HONG KONG). 

Johnnie To's direction is assured and evenly paced while the movie's most memorable highlight is none others than the blazing 45-minute finale set in a burning warehouse where we follow a series of harrowing moments as Yau Sui and his team struggled to seek for trapped victims while coping with the uncontrollable rage of fire. Though not as epic as BACKDRAFT does so admirably, the scene alone remains spectacular in its own right and no doubt the most realistic fire sequence ever staged in the HK cinema, especially given to its relatively smaller budget. 

Nominated for 6 Hong Kong Film Awards including Best Picture and Best Director (both lost to Fruit Chan's MADE IN HONG KONG), LIFELINE is certainly one of its kinds. Like BACKDRAFT, this movie stands out something out of the usual norm that is refreshing to watch other than the typical cop genre often dominated in the HK cinema.

Johnnie To's slice-of-life firefighters drama is melodramatic but refreshing of pace from the usual Hong Kong cop genre blessed with a fine ensemble cast and spectacular set-piece.

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