Though younger audiences might not remember, back in 2002 the Pang Brothers Danny and Oxide were marked for great things after the success of “The Eye”, “Bangkok Dangerous” and other hits. Sadly, while they’ve never been responsible for anything particularly awful, the last decade has seen them slide into the roles of studio film makers for hire, churning out a series of unremarkable and average genre outings. Still, there’s always the hope that the siblings will recapture their earlier form, and most things they’re involved in have at least a spark of promise as a result. And so arrives “Out of Inferno”, a 3D-shot disaster thriller set in a burning office building, with popular pairing Lau Ching Wan and Louis Koo together as brothers (impressively, the film marks their 12th onscreen team-up), and Pang regular Angelica Lee (“Re-cycle”, “The Eye”) as one of the unfortunates trapped by the blaze.
The plot echoes that of countless other genre films, with Lau Ching Wan as firefighter Tai Kwan and Louis Koo as his brother and former colleague Keung, who now runs a successful fire prevention corporation. On the night of Keung’s big launch party, a fire breaks out in his tower of an office building, leaving him and his guests trapped, including Tai Kwan’s wife See Lok (Angelica Lee), who chose an unfortunate time to visit her gynaecologist (Chen Si Cheng, “Silent Witness”). Tai Kwan and his team arrive on the scene and start to work their way up through the burning building, with time running out as the floors start to collapse.
“Out of Inferno” is definitely a step up from the Pang Brothers’ recent output and indeed from other disaster films from Asia or Hollywood, chiefly due to it being far more economically scripted than most genre offerings. Though the story is very much by the numbers and plays out entirely as expected, the film has less melodrama than usual, with a smaller ensemble cast and more of a focus on its protagonists and leads. While there’s still a thick slice of cheese melted over the final act, the film at least attempts to use its premise to ask a handful of interesting moral questions, and though admittedly heavy handed, this does add a little extra interest.
The cast are all on decent form, and it’s always pleasant to watch Lau Ching Wan and Louis Koo together again, the latter going slightly over the top with a vaguely villainous slant, and to see Angelica Lee being put through her paces by the Pangs. Unsurprisingly, the script doesn’t give any of them much to work with, though all are entertaining and do their part in keeping things moderately engaging, if scarcely gripping or moving.
The main draw here is the action and special effects, and the Pangs again show themselves to be very accomplished when it comes to visuals, editing and large scale set pieces. Using an impressive mix of CGI and apparently real fire, the film certainly looks convincing, some well-orchestrated and realised sequences making for a genuine sense of danger. This is true even on the small screen, and without being able to really say how well the 3D worked in cinemas, it does appear that the Pangs have a better grasp of how to best utilise the technology than they showed in “The Child’s Eye” in particular. A fast pace also helps, and with a running time of less than two hours, the film is considerably less bloated than the average disaster movie, and less prone to pointless subplots.
“Out of the Inferno” does meander of course, and though pleasingly stripped down, is still a fairly straightforward and generic disaster movie. However, for fans of the form or the cast, or for anyone who likes to watch things burn, there’s plenty of fun to be had, and while not exactly a return to form for the Pangs, it’s undoubtedly a step in the right direction.
Oxide Pang Chun, Danny Pang (director) / Tang Nicholl, Oxide Pang Chun, Danny Pang, Kam-Yuen Szeto, Lik-Kei Tang, MengZhang Wu (screenplay)
CAST: Ching Wan Lau