Bravest movie review
An inferno of loud and bombastic patriotism making for a hyper sensationalized true story.
Fire fighting fires are not the norm for Hong Kong / Chinese cinema the most notable films from the past decade being Derek Kwok Chi Kin As the Light Goes Out (2013) and The Pang Brothers Out of the Inferno (2013), both providing mild entertainment burdened by substandard plots. The Bravest is the latest fire fighting film from China to tackle the true events of the Xingang Port oil meltdown.
During a fire at a restaurant, Squadron One fireteam led by Jiang Liwei (Huang Xiaoming) is sent out to put out a said fire. In an act of heroism, Jiang Liwei rescues the owner’s daughter and all are presumed safe after the fire is put out. Squad members Sun Yan (Li Pei’en) and Ma Weiguo (Du Jiang) are sent into the restaurant to investigate the incident but a backdraft ignites the storage of canisters and the resulting explosion kills team members Sun Yan.
Due to the incident being under Jiang Liwei’s supervision he is relocated to another fire station working demeaning jobs while Ma Weiguo is promoted to Liwei’s previous position. A psychologist evaluation soon deems Liwei’s undisciplined nature and heroic antics not suitable for the force forcing him to retire.
As Liwei goes about his normal life with his wife, Li Fang (Tan Zhuo) and son, Jiang Miao (Lv Yuncong) an explosion at the city’s huge port oil refinery calls upon all cities fire department to be dispensed in support.
Upon arrival, it becomes apparent that the oil containments include properties of benzene and cyanide that are highly dangerous to the public and any ignition will cause a massive catastrophe. Key among this is tanker A01 which the fire is encircling and if it manages to reach the other sectors it creates a domino effect.
The city’s fire chief, Wu Chengguang (Hou Yong) leads the charge operating in his nearby command center, Wu orders Ma Weiguo and his team to protect a nearby tanker and ensure that the creeping fire does not spread to this tanker. Meanwhile, news has got out that a resulting explosion will affect the whole city causing a city-wide panic, resulting in everyone attempting to flee the city. Li Fang with Jiang Miao in tow joins the evacuation but gets separated on the way.
The Bravest is a film with everything amped up to ten with so many explosions, perils, screaming, shouting and anger thrown around. Music is overwrought and punctuates every moment of the film, it’s effecting but also feels heavily manufactured. Instead of a tightly focused film of the dangers at hand the filmmakers throw in every cliche they can think of to embellish proceedings but sadly ends up making everything artificial.
The manufactured baggage that everyone carries make everyone seem fake opposed to real-life characters; there are the old married couple, the quarreling soon to be wedded couple, a child that hates his father, a rival firefighter, an evil cooperate big wig and worse of all it places the blame of the incident on the evil foreigners.
To emphasis the horribleness of foreign power they have the captain of the plant holding a whiskey flask and spewing lines of how lazy and incompetent the Chinese are as well as being fully aware of the dangers but chooses to proceed anyway. The brazen patriotism is prevalent throughout with so many moments where individuals are there to serve their country and are willing to sacrifice themselves to make their country proud.
Huang Xiaoming carries the film, his smug charm and good looks are aplenty but for stronger emotional moments he seems to be sleepwalking throughout. Du Jiang best known for Red Sea Operation gives a stronger performance, his cool demeanor and jealousy towards Xiaomings, Jiang Liwei is collected and the latter half he delivers a heartfelt emotional speech.
The film does suffer from a very shouty performance where many people seem to shout their lines in fits of hysteria or anger. You will be hard-pressed to distinguish many of the fire fighting teams where each seems to possess the same code of patriotism.
Action set-pieces are plenty and there is a constant sense of danger as our multiple protagonists are put through countless obstacles. The problem comes in the fact that there are just too many chance problems that seem to occur and it slowly chips away at the prevailing danger at hand.
The mix of practical effects and visual effects is very impressive with wide shots used to great effect. The explosions are strong accompanied by strong explosive sound effects. There are some odd moments of wirework that distracts as the physics on display is at odds with reality, many of these moments are employed when an explosion occurs and the flying bodies are usually suspended on wires.
A technique that the film employs is to make the fire act like a creature, it creeps and roars as it surrounds and encompasses the protagonist, its an interesting metaphor but it never really amounts to anything meaningful and was a technique also employed more effectively in As the Light Goes Out.
The sad fact is that its no denying the bravery of the real-life heroes who sacrificed there lives for the safety of the city but with a film so brazenly over the top and manufactured it removes a lot of the authenticity that should have accompanied the film.
As a piece of entertainment cinema, The Bravest is satisfactory and entertaining but the sad truth is it deducts a lot of the credit to the real-life heroes that they are depicting making them seem manufactured. Your enjoyment comes from how much you can stomach the strong patriotism and cliched mechanics.