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Nicholas Tse is interrogated by Donnie Yen in "Raging Fire."

The Hong Kong filmmaker Benny Chan was working on Raging Fire in 2019 when he was diagnosed with nasopharyngeal cancer. He died from the disease almost exactly 12 months ago, at the age of 58, and his last film opens at AMC Grapevine Mills this weekend. It’s dedicated to his memory, and it shows the writer-director going out the way he came in, helming an effective generic action movie with a high body count and enough moral ambiguity to satisfy your craving for a pulpy cop thriller.

The film begins with a prominent gang buying meth from some Vietnamese importers at a deserted shopping mall. The police have been staking out the gang and raid the mall, but a masked quintet of gun-toting thugs ambushes and massacres all three groups, then runs off with the drugs and cash. Senior Inspector Bong Cheung (Donnie Yen) is tasked with finding the killers, and the movie does not keep us in suspense: They’re ex-cops lead by Bong’s former prize student Ngo (Nicholas Tse). When they were police, Ngo and his guys tortured a suspect to death, and Bong testified against them and sent them to prison. Now they’re free and targeting criminals and cops alike, the former for their money and the latter to embarrass Bong. Ngo goes so far as to taunt his erstwhile mentor during an interrogation: “You’re going to a lot of funerals lately.”

Yen has been cast for his martial-arts skills since the 1990s, but here the 58-year-old star is called on to act more than fight. Unfortunately, while he makes a good fist of conveying the character’s residual loyalty to the ex-cops whom he’s pursuing, Yen’s too stolid to be credible as a guy who fires his weapon at his own bomb squad to drive them back. In this movie, there’s no honor among thieves and not much more among cops. It’s possible to sympathize with the killers when you learn that top police officials promised to protect them and then sold them out at their trial, but they kill one of their own when he attracts too much attention, and they shoot unlucky bystanders just to waylay Bong and his officers. It’s good that Tse is such a compelling villain, nursing a grievance underneath his cool exterior.

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It’s also good that the action sequences don’t disappoint. The car chase near the end is marred by Bong’s improbable saving of a little girl, and the bit with the police superintendent (Ben Yuen) taking hostages with a bomb is irredeemably hokey. However, the shootout between cops and ex-cops at a stopped traffic light is a great exercise in orchestrating a lot of moving parts. Even better is the climactic showdown between Bong and Ngo in a church that’s being renovated, as both combatants lose their weapons and have to fight with the worktools available. Tse frequently acts in Chan’s films and demonstrates some acrobatic moves, and when you come away from a fight with Yen looking impressive, that’s something. But for the characters using cellphones, you’d think that Raging Fire was made back in the glory days of the ’90s. I don’t think the departed Chan would have had it any other way.

Raging Fire
Starring Donnie Yen and Nicholas Tse. Written and directed by Benny Chan. Not rated.

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