Sunday, August 11, 2019

The Bravest

About the only thing I can really say about the firefighting in The Bravest - which was obviously never going to take the same sort of critical look at its characters as something like Rescue Me, and so maybe can't really be criticized that much from that direction - is that I don't think they used a ladder truck at any point in the movie. Is that not a thing in China? It felt like kind of a weird omission when the characters were going through the burning building to get to the third floor, and later when faced with a 20-meter tank on fire or seas of flames that they needed to get past.

Looking stuff up about the movie sent me down a small tech-spec rabbit hole, though - it really looks like something built to be seen in 3D, but I couldn't find any mention of stereographers or stereo conversion in the credits, and it's not listed in the credits. What is listed is that the film was apparently shot at 48fps and released that way on some screens in China, which is interesting. The relatively few big films released that way here have shown potential but also feel like it's a more challenging tool than filmmakers expect: Peter Jackson really only seemed to get the hang of it by the third Hobbit film (although regular 24fps 3D looked much less impressive after the first), and Ang Lee's Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk got an interesting sense of heightened reality out of it, enough that I'm curious to see what he does with it in Gemini Man come October. It feels like it might have done hellish things to this movie's budget - that's twice as many frames of fire to render! - but with all the slow-motion, that could have been really different. That's the trick with high-frame-rate stuff - we've grown so used to 24fps as the standard, our brains aren't really ready to process it differently until the film's over, and then we probably won't have another chance any time soon.

A little way down the rabbit hole, I saw that Detective Dee and the Four Heavenly Kings was also released in 48fps, and I thought I was kind of missing out not seeing it in 3D (somehow, the film still hasn't come out on Hong Kong Blu-ray, so I haven't been able to get a 3D disc). The Detective Dee flicks aren't really martial-arts movies so much as action/adventures with plenty of fighting, but seeing what Tsui Hark and his crew could do with the sort of clarity a high frame rate affords has me really curious.

Lie huo ying xiong (The Bravest)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 10 August 2019 in AMC Boston Common #1 (first-run, DCP)

It seems like it would be hard to go too far over the top with a movie about heroic firefighters facing a massive but somewhat plausible danger, but The Bravest gives it a shot. The wall-to-wall firefighting action is more or less on point, but filmmaker Tony Chan Kwoik-Fai has trouble letting the heroism stand on its own, and there's sometimes an awful thin line between the moments that successfully make the audience stand up and cheer and the ones that try and get a snicker instead.

As it opens, Jiang Liwei (Huang Xiaoming) is the captain of the Bingang fire department's special response squadron, personally running into a burning hot pot restaurant to rescue a little girl in the top floor apartment - but also taking the fall when the fire flares up again after apparently being out. He's assigned to a smaller station while second-in-command Ma Weiguo (Du Jiang) takes his old job, and his psych evaluation suggests that he should retire as a result of his PTSD. A fire at the port will put all hands on deck - Jiang, Ma, Fire Inspector Wang Lu (Yang Zi), and her fiancé Xu Xiaobin (Ou Hao). Of principal concern is Tank A01, a hundred thousand cubic meters of crude oil, across the street from chemical tanks containing benzene, xylene, and cyanide. If it explodes, it could wipe out this city of eight million and create a far-reaching environmental catastrophe.

This seems to undersell the danger a bit; the fictional city of Bingang appears to be modeled on Tianjin, a major port with a population of twelve million. It is kind of odd that Chan and co-writer Yu Yonggan used a made-up setting for a film built to be one of three major flag-waving films coming out in China over the next few months, but there is only so much of this potential disaster that can be blamed on foreign negligence (though, make no mistake, that does appear to be the proximate cause of all this); you can make all firefighters heroes without implying that some actual city's public servants have been slacking on the job - or that someone like this film's harbor master would withhold information. It's an odd dance that must take place when making movies in an environment hyper-sensitive to that sort of thing, and truth be told, Chan and Yu handle the fact that people in the institutions one wishes to exalt must occasionally screw up in order to keep the movie going than many trying to do the same manage.

Full review on EFilmCritic

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