Sky on Fire is a contemporary Hong Kong film featuring scientific advancements, technological breakthroughs, and lots of violent clashes among men in freshly-pressed business suits. On the other hand, Sword Master is a wuxia film that takes place in ancient China and features a grieving princess, her loyal page, the celebrated warrior who abandoned her and lots of violent clashes among men (and women) in traditional flowing robes. And, while both films showcase brutal, cruel, and savage fighting scenes, they are more different than they are alike—though both feature a mix of actors from China, Hong Kong and Taiwan, too.
In Sky on Fire, much of the action takes place in a towering high-rise called Sky One. It is in this skyscraper, in glittering Hong Kong, that a lab developing “Super Stem Cells” is housed. Here, heroes and villains meet, merge, betray, save, and kill each other. Directed by Ringo Lam, Sky on Fire is both a bloodbath and a whodunit thriller.
Five years prior, Professor Poon died in a fire that also destroyed his research notes containing information about curing cancer. Poon’s assistant Gao Yu (Zhang Jingchu) was saved in that fire by Chong Tin-po (Daniel Wu) the lab’s security chief. Now, Yu is working on the “Super Stem Cell” project that Poon left behind while her husband Tong Wing-cheung (Fan Guangyao) runs the facility and grows greedier every day. As Tong’s actions become more ruthless, security chief Tin-po vows to protect Yu and the lab. After all, Tin-po’s wife died of the same disease Yu is seeking to cure.
Meanwhile, truck driver Chia-chia (Joseph Chang) hopes to help his dying sister, Jen (Amber Kuo), an annoying woman who behaves like an adolescent. Then, there’s the matter of Wolf (Li Haitao), Tin-po’s sinister bodyguard, and Poon Chi-man (Zhang Ruoyun), the orphan son of Professor Poon. When the medicine is stolen, the battle is on. With bullets flying, cars crashing, glass breaking, and CGI effects, Sky on Fire is not for the fainthearted.
‘Sky On Fire’ began showing at Regal Cinemas Meridian 16 on December 2.
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From the genre of martial arts comes Sword Master based on the novel by Gu Long. Shot in stunning 3D, the film takes advantage of it by showing off Mardi Gras-style costumes and garish makeup. One main antagonist, Yan Shisan (Peter Ho), even has heavy black facial tattoos that make him resemble Brandon Lee in The Crow.
The story unfolds with Xie Xiaofeng (Kenny Lin) as a remorseful fighter. Even though he’s the fiercest sword swinger ever, he’s lost all interest in warfare. Celebrated as the Third Master of the Sword Mansion, he’s traumatized and apathetic about any future combats. Faking his death and renaming himself Chi, Xiaofeng leaves the martial arts world for a low-status janitorial job in a brothel—laboring by day and drowning his sorrows in drink at night.
Determined not to rely on weaponry to fend off his enemies, Chi even endures being stabbed with a knife in order to avoid battling some bad guys bullying a prostitute. After he’s nursed back to health, Chi finds work in a small village, emptying buckets filled with night soil.
Meanwhile Shisan terrorizes the countryside with his savagery. Screaming through his graphics-covered face, he torments his way through town; even slaying a gang leader. A master swordsman, Shisan kills indiscriminately until he learns he’s terminally ill. Upon hearing that Xiaofeng has died, he regrets never having dueled with him to settle who is the better swordsman. Then, the inevitable happens as Shisan and Xiaofeng meet. But there are others desiring Xiaofeng’s death, too. Murong Qiudi (Yiyan Jiang) is Xiaofeng’s jilted ex-fiancee who’s never gotten over him. Her family of master sword fighters lost face over the betrayal, and she can swing a sword as well as any man can. Qiudi also has the allegiance of her faithful page who murdered an innocent woman he didn’t want to marry just to remain available for Qiudi. Then, there’s Xiao Li (Mengjie Jiang), a hooker with a heart of gold, who has fallen in love with Xiaofeng.
With Tsui Hark—one of China’s “New Wave” filmmakers—producing, and Derek Yee—who performed as Third Young Master in 1977’s Death Duel—directing, there’s never a bloodless moment.
‘Sword Master 3D’ opens at AMC Pacific Place 11 on December 9.