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Sky on Fire (2016) Review

Updated on December 5, 2016
The official US theatrical poster for "Sky on Fire."
The official US theatrical poster for "Sky on Fire." | Source

A Lousy Script Used as Fire Retardant

Sky Clinic, a medical facility in a massive skyscraper known as Sky One, is so technologically advanced that it’s capable of curing cancer. Tinbo (Daniel Wu), head of security at Sky One, is forced to utilize all of his expertise when ex-stem cells are stolen during a routine delivery. The stem cells are used to develop advanced medications and help cure diseases thought to be incurable.

Meanwhile Jia (Joseph Chang) will stop at nothing to obtain the treatment to cure the end-stage cancer his sister Jane (Amber Kuo) was just diagnosed with. Poon Ziwan (Zhang Ruo Yun) believes the stem cells belong to him since his father’s work is what created the expensive treatment. Business tycoon Mr. Tang (Fan Guang-yao) owns the Sky One building and wants the stem cells returned to him so he can grossly inflate what they’re worth in order to make more of a profit. A war over the stem cells unfolds and the line between ally and enemy begins to blur.

Daniel Wu as Tinbo in "Sky on Fire."
Daniel Wu as Tinbo in "Sky on Fire." | Source

This is the fifth film in director Ringo Lam’s unofficial “…on Fire” series, which spans the past three decades. The other films include City on Fire, Prison on Fire, School on Fire, and Prison on Fire II. The last “…on Fire” film was released 25 years ago. It seems that Lam is aiming for a something along the lines of Park Chan-wook’s “Vengeance” trilogy, but if this film is any indication of the rest of the series then they’re not really worth the effort of tracking down

The film begins with this flashback from five years ago of Tinbo’s wife passing, Tinbo losing his faith, and a brief highlight segment of a laboratory catching fire that kills Ziwan’s father and injures another scientist (played by Zhang Jinchu). The film wastes little time showcasing its lackluster special effects with fire that is poorly computer generated and noticeably bad green screen as shooting on location obviously wasn’t a priority. The special effects are of poor quality throughout the film’s short hour and a half duration as the majority of the car sequences seem to be shot in parked cars.

Sky on Fire Teaser Trailer

The characters are weakly developed and the script is all over the place. Jane and Jia are easily the most ridiculous as Jane doesn’t do much besides cry and Jia’s short temper results in him throwing tantrums and angrily pointing at people in a way that would make Ghost Rider jealous. Tinbo seems to be making sacrifices towards some goal he never achieves or reveals and Ziwan seems to be out for himself only to eventually work with the opposing side for no reason at all. The film fails to have the audience connect with any of the characters. Everything in the film revolves around a shotgun shooting out the lights (except for Ziwan since he, “…doesn’t know how to shoot.”), explosions, or a hospital bed and anything in between is just bland fluff with no substance.

Joseph Chang and Fan Guang-yao in "Sky on Fire."
Joseph Chang and Fan Guang-yao in "Sky on Fire." | Source

It always seems like a peculiar choice when a film chooses to devote itself to putting the spotlight on the future or highly advanced technology when it doesn’t have the proper budget to bring that sort of concept to life. There’s a parking garage in Sky One that parks the cars after the driver has gotten out of the car, but the garage is as gargantuan as the Galactic Senate in Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones.

A scientist known as Dr. Lee in the film carries the containers of ex-stem cells like Jimmy Buffett carries his margaritas in Jurassic World. The storyline collapses on itself in the final half hour, especially when it comes to the Tinbo character. Action sequences are bizarre with a car chasing a moped sequence and a man falling out of a window sideways as he's thrown out of it. The highlight of the film is when Daniel Wu cocks his gun on the side of Leon Lai's head. The interactions between Jia, Jane, and Ziwan are confusing. It’s as if Ziwan and Jane are on the cusp of a potential relationship, but the intention is dropped as soon as it’s introduced. Apparently getting cancer means you can run out in the middle of traffic carelessly without any repercussions, as well. Nothing adds up in Sky on Fire. You understand that everyone is after the stem cells, but trying to define who is working with who becomes unclear.

Joseph Chang and Amber Kuo in "Sky on Fire."
Joseph Chang and Amber Kuo in "Sky on Fire." | Source

Ringo Lam has created an absolute train wreck of an action film. The acting is almost as ridiculous as the terrible action scenes (Ziwan whisper screams like Eddie Redmayne in Jupiter Ascending) and the storyline is this spontaneous goulash of ideas with no destination in mind. Cover your hand with honey and stick it between either your couch cushions or the seats of your car. Whatever sticks are the concepts that were implanted into the film. All that connects these ideas from one to the other is that honey; no other common thread is shared. So not only have you wasted a bunch of honey you’ve also wasted a bunch of time mentioning a paper clip, two pennies, a gum wrapper, and a grocery receipt since throwing them all together doesn’t automatically establish something coherent or worthwhile.

1 star for Sky on Fire (2016)

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