The Bravest 烈火英雄 (2019) Review

From his little-seen Combination Platter (1993) to movies like Hot Summer Days (2010) and Bride Wars (2015 — a Chinese remake of the 2009 Kate Hudson and Anne Hathaway’s movie of the same name), Tony Chan’s filmography consists of largely romantic comedies. Which is why it feels so odd when his latest film turns out to be a big-budget firefighting movie. No doubt a radical change of pace from his usual repertoire, Chan’s The Bravest also happens to be the first Chinese blockbuster of its kind and the result is something that closely resembled a large-scale Hollywood production.

The movie, which is said to be inspired from the 2010 Dalian Xingang oil spill that causes a massive fire incident, revolves around a group of Bingang-based firefighters (among them are Huang Xiaoming’s Jiang Liwei and Du Jiang’s Ma Weiguo) attempting to put out the out-of-control fire occurred at the fictional city’s oil depot.

Despite its subject matter, Chan doesn’t entirely abandon his comfort zone altogether and this can be briefly seen during a scene involving the bickering soon-to-be-married couple Wang Lu (Yang Zi) and Xu Xiaobin (Ou Hao). And as expected for such a movie, Chan and co-writer Yu Yonggan leave no cliché unturned as they cover everything from the obligatory protagonist-with-a-bad-past to heroic speeches and lots of saluting moments.

Even the melodramatic level is cranked up to the eleven and whatever emotions they attempt to tug our heartstrings — well, at least from what I saw — feels more manufactured than rightfully earned. If that’s not enough, they even throw in a subplot involving Jiang Liwei’s wife (Tan Zhuo) and their son trying to evacuate the city, which doesn’t really doesn’t add up to much other than making the movie unnecessarily padded. The actors, in the meantime, did the best they could with their otherwise thinly-developed roles.

Whereas the story and characters feel largely secondary, Chan deserves praise in the technical department. Given the fact this is his first foray into large-scale production, he surprisingly manages to accomplish the feat like a seasoned pro. He clearly shows a lot of promise in delivering big spectacle and rousing visuals that look great on the big screen. What impresses me the most is the near-seamless combination of practical effects and CGI that brings the fire to life. The action setpieces are just as impressive, with the spectacular opening fire-rescue scene alone being one of the prime examples. Kudos also go to Chan for making good use of slow-motion to accentuate certain moments every now and then.

The Bravest may have been riddled with same old clichés and yet, this is the kind of blockbuster-sized movie that deserved to be seen on the big screen just for the spectacles alone.

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