Fantastic Fest: 'Fire of Conscience'

Dante Lam's good cops versus bad cops thriller is sensational.

Fiery conscience.
Fiery conscience.

Fans of Dante Lam's explosive, anthropomorphized bestiary (Beast Cops, Beast Stalker) will not be disappointed with this ratatat descent into the grimy-slick underworld of Hong Kong lawbreakers and the damaged cops who finally say enough's enough and let their 9mms go bang.

Lam's no stranger to creating gritty urban police actioners that defy both odds and expectations. The law of diminishing posits that increasing mediocrity should have caught up with the entire HK cops-minus-consciences and killers-with-hearts roughly genre right around the time the former British Crown colony was handed back over to its mainland overseers. Yet HK remains one of the most vital and vibrant (not to mention cutting edge) film production centers in the world. When it's not outstripping Hollywood in terms of sheer fearsome originality (cf: Andrew Lau's Infernal Affairs) it's forcing Hollywood to come to it (cf: Martin Scorcese's The Departed). Take that, South Korea!

Top billed Leon Lai and Richie Ren are a pair of HK longtimers facing similar career trajectories: down, down, down. Lai's Captain Manfred is crawling into a bottle of Johnny Walker in the wake of his wife's murder, and Ren's Inspector Kee, fresh in from the narcotics squad, is a morose action-man stuck behind a mammoth bureaucracy and nitpicking superior officers who pines for the rainswept pavement of his beat days (and possibly the blood and thunder thereof). When these two hard boiled flatfoots team up to solve a crime that may or may not have been birthed in their own department, all bets are off and conscience becomes little more than a word that's difficult to spell backwards.

Speaking of hard boiled, one of Fire of Conscience's myriad cordite 'n' crossfire highlights is an intensely choreographed ballistic ballet in a tea room, shades of John Woo's own Hard Boiled. And we'd be remiss in not mentioning the film's sublime opening CGI-assisted tracking shot, which rivals (and, let's face it, surpasses) anything Brian DePalma has done for us lately. A frozen tableau of black-and-white cops, criminals, and none-too-innocent civilians gives way to a gangbuster opening that'll likely leave your mandible on the sticky-sweet theater floor, your peepers permanently blown open, and your heart trip-hammering at 240 bpm. Now that's what we call action.

Fire of Conscience screens Friday, Sept. 24 at 4:10pm and Wednesday, Sept. 29 at 12 pm at the Alamo South Lamar 2.

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Fantastic Fest 2010, Fantastic Fest, Fire of Conscience, Hong Kong, Dante Lam

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