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November 10, 2014

As the Light Goes Out

as the light goes out 1.jpg

Gow for ting hung
Derek Kwok - 2014
Well Go USA Region 1 DVD

This is one of the few films that really could have benefitted from having a "Making of . . ." supplement. Even though As the Light Goes Out doesn't really connect on an emotional level until near the end, I was still curious about what it took to make a film that mostly takes place in a collapsing power plant, in the midst of a raging fire, with smoke so thick and black that it disorients even the experienced firefighters.

Having seen this film theatrically in Udine, Italy, I can attest that there is a loss of visual impact on the home screen. The story centers on the firemen themselves, with those rescued mostly on the periphery. The basic setup could well have been taken from a classic Hollywood template with the older veteran with one last day before retirement, the younger guy who has overwhelming responsibility thrust on him by chance, and the various professional rivalries. There is also the conflict between following the rules of safety and protocol versus taking chances to save lives.

as the light goes out 2.jpg

As the Light Goes Out did make me think of Howard Hawks, minus any females helping or getting in the way, or Hawks' humor - primarily Only Angels Have Wings. These are working guys, whose job entails life threatening risks, with some kind of personal flaw, connected by a camaraderie based on their sense of professionalism and shared experiences not understood by outsiders. The back story of one of the firefighters taking the blame for not following orders, while the other gets the promotion echoes the theme repeated in several Hawks films where one of the characters takes on a challenge to redeem himself in the eyes of others as well as himself. Where Kwok differs from Hawks is that even with stars Nicholas Tse, Shawn Yue and Simon Yam, the films is more of an ensemble piece than Hawks' films centered on John Wayne or Cary Grant. The other significant difference is that while Hawks' men put themselves in suicidal situations, they always get out alive.

It will be interesting to know whether there will be more films like As the Light Goes Out, that is, big budget films financed by mainland companies, that take place in Hong Kong, and to see which filmmakers and actors will be involved. The one bit of humor involves a fake recruitment television ad for the Hong Kong Fire Department featuring Jackie Chan. The joke in the film is someone mentioning how Chan was the star of Police Story. With Chan evolving from the most famous face of Hong Kong cinema to one of the most vocal supporters of mainland China following the recent protests, his presence is more disconcerting than funny.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at November 10, 2014 07:00 AM