New On Blu: AS THE LIGHT GOES OUT is a Blaze Of Glory

As The Light Goes Out releases today on Blu-ray and DVD.

Let’s get this right out of the way: As The Light Goes Out is a dramatic disaster film about firefighters.

If you really sit and ponder that for a few minutes, you can probably map out a good part of the film and correctly identify certain story beats, themes, and genre tropes that will emerge. In reading some of what others have said on Letterboxd, many of the reviews seem to fault the film for a certain amount of predictability and formula. I’m not sure what to think of these kinds of reviews or the expectations of those who make these kinds of statements. “Disaster response” is not a genre that demands reinvention; it just needs to be done well.

Is the film done well? The answer to that is an emphatic “yes”.

Directed and co-written by Derek Kwok, As The Light Goes Out follows a group of firemen on Christmas Eve as they deal with a seemingly routine firefight that escalates into a massive problem. Alongside the immediate plot, the film shows us many of the problems and interactions that the various firefighters in the group deal with. One of the foremost issues is a looming philosophical debate of heroism versus safety, with characters falling on different sides of the argument.

In the film’s opening flashback, three of the main characters were cited for taking unnecessary risk during a previous rescue operation (one of them voluntarily took the fall for the others), and the debate is a constant part of the crew’s daily life. What some consider bravery, others are quick to cite as stupidity or endangerment. On contemplation I even have a theory — and this is total speculation on my part — that some of the more reckless heroism in the film is subconsciously suicidal in nature. If true, the film actually cuts even deeper than I first realized.

Other problems face the various team members. The senior officers deal with grueling office bureaucracy and trying to maintain order in chaos, as well as disagreement with each other. An older crewman faces the inevitability of aging and the toll that a life of firefighting and smoking has taken on his body. Several deal with family problems and a lifestyle that alienates them from their wives and kids, and still others carry demons with them from the horrors they’ve seen.

I’m speaking in broad strokes and generically referring to characters because I don’t want to just spell everything out, particularly in a genre where things may feel predictable. This may all sound like pretty basic stuff but it’s the common human drama that makes you care for the team, and brings weight to the characters once the heavy stuff starts.

Even before the film’s inevitable “big fire”, we see plenty of the team in operation, fighting building fires, rescuing civilians, and constantly putting their lives on the line. This aspect is never cheapened or taken for granted — every fire is dangerous and has the potential to turn deadly at any time, and the film visually reminds us that the toxic smoke is as deadly an element as the flames.

The massive power plant explosion that serves as the film’s major conflict is a huge and impressive showcase of smoke and fire effects work, most of which they stick the landing on. With the massive setting, there are several huge and exciting set-pieces for the heroes to navigate in their search-and-rescue op. The creativeness and tone of the set-pieces frequently reminded me of The Towering Inferno, another superb disaster film which probably represents the pinnacle of this sort of picture. A torrent of rain has the opposite effect of what the audience might expect: rather than dousing the fire, it prevents smoke from leaving the building, creating an even heavier and more poisonous environment.

The worst thing about the fire is that is was preventable. Earlier in the film, several firefighters point out the danger presented by a gas pipeline in close proximity to an earlier fire, and express concern for the situation. These are dismissed, due to a combination of holiday concern and bureaucratic red tape. When the fire reignites, they urge the power plant manager to cut off the pipeline, but he refuses to do so because it’s Christmas Eve and he can’t be the guy who ruined Christmas for the neighborhood whose power goes out. So instead he runs an unnecessary risk and ends up blowing up the entire power plant, blanketing all of Hong Kong in darkness.

Nice going, asshole.

While watching the film, I actually identified a bunch of little flaws and nitpicks (for example, in a convenience of the script, one of the kids stuck in the power plant is the son of one of the firefighters) but after dwelling on it for a few days most of those have simply fallen to the wayside in the face of the bigger themes and epicness of the overall experience. As I have revisited scenes from the film for this review, it just keeps resonating and growing on me more and more.

The epic tone of the film comes in great part due to the music, a combination of the film’s score and some great musical selections. The film’s haunting and amazing finale is set to David Gilmour’s rendition of Bizet’s Je Crois Entendre Encore, and it’s absolutely wonderful. I’m also a big fan of end credits that drive home a film’s tone, and in this respect As The Light Goes Out caps off perfectly with a touching closing shot that segues into the insanely pretty theme song that I’ve now been playing on repeat these last few days.

The Package

As The Light Goes Out makes its domestic debut on Blu-ray, DVD, and VOD from WellGoUSA. The movie is presented in the original Cantonese with English subtitles. The disc is actually pretty lightweight, with only a trailer to complement the film.

Special Features and Extras

Trailer (2:04)

Previews (4:50)
 The disc includes trailers for three WellGoUSA titles, Iceman (1:38), Firestorm (1:41), and Special ID (1:31). These trailers also appear as autoplay pre-menu advertisements.

The disc may be barebones, but what a movie. I’m glad to see any major Chinese or HK action film that doesn’t revolve around martial arts or cops & robbers, but even so, it surprised me how much I liked As The Light Goes Out, and I’m even more impressed that the film continues to grow on me. Bravo, Derek Kwok. Bravo.

A/V Out.

Get it at Amazon:
 As The Light Goes Out [Blu-Ray] | [DVD] | [Instant]

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