Lifeline (1997) / Thriller-Action
aka Shi wan huo ji
MPAA Rated: Not rated, but probably PG for some violent images
Running Time: 109 min.
Cast: Lau Ching Wan, Alex Fong, Carman Lee, Ruby Wong, Damian Lau
Director: Johnnie To
Screenplay: Yau Nai-Hoi
Review published March 3, 1999
Due to revolving around the occupation of firefighting, Lifeline will likely be compared by most viewers to the American film by Ron Howard, Backdraft, by any who have seen both. However, even though Lifeline came afterward and should rightfully be seen as derivative, I would maintain that Johnnie To's excursion is a better film than its inspiration. Unlike Ron Howard's release, the soap opera antics in Lifeline doesn't also spill over into the phenomenal action sequences to weaken the overall impact.
The story in Lifeline follows a group of unconventional firefighters in Hong Kong, who have a lot more heart than talent. Lau Ching Wan (Black Mask, Running Out of Time) heads the ragtag crew, and finds himself the object of scrutiny by his supervisors, who see him as too reckless to lead. On a side story, he finds himself in the middle of a love triangle with a pretty doctor (Carman Lee, Knock Off and her neglectful boyfriend (Kenneth Chan, Man Wanted).
Although Lifeline as a whole is a bit slow in parts and often predictable, it is still recommended for the quality acting and impressive special effects. The characters are portrayed three-dimensionally, which makes the scenes dinvolving firefighting a bit more exciting than the norm, mostly because we actually do care. Director Johnny To (The Heroic Trio, All About Ah-Long) blends the action and drama well, although he does tend to favor the latter side.
If you enjoyed Backdraft and are looking for more, you would do well to seek this one out. In my opinion, it's not just more of the same, it's doing it better.
©1999 Vince Leo