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“Fire of Conscience,” Reviewed

“Fire of Conscience,” Reviewed (photo)

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Reviewed at Fantastic Fest 2010.

What’s the worst job in the world? Garbage man? Human test subject? Porno theater janitor? According to movies, the worst job in the world is a Hong Kong police officer. Oh sure, you get to do cool things like fire two guns at once while sliding down bannisters or walking in slo-mo through a flock of doves. But the price paid for such badass pleasures is a steep one: all your loved ones have to die in awful ways, you have to work around the clock, treat everyone around you like an asshole, and grow bad facial hair as an outward manifestation of your tortured soul.

Consider the Hong Kong cops in Dante Lam’s “Fire of Conscience.” Some are good, some are bad, but all of them are miserable. Captain Manfred (Leon Lai) is grappling with the death of his wife (and, just for good measure, the death of the unborn child his wife was carrying). His right hand man Cheung-on’s (Kai Chi Liu) wife left him, and now he has to raise their daughter alone. And Inspector Kee (Richie Ren), who is too committed to his job to commit to his fiancé, hides dark secrets behind his well-tailored suits. Manfred and Kee meet when their two individual cases intersect, and throws their lives into chaos; emotionally devastating but oh-so-stylish chaos.

“Fire of Conscience” is typical of a certain kind of HK melodrama: characters brood to the sounds of soulful guitar solos until it’s time to get into awesome gun battles. And Lam’s gun battles are awesome; loud, sweaty, and harrowing. There’s an intensity to the violence — the way bullets thwack into concrete walls and grenades knock people around like rag dolls — that’s missing in a lot of action films. This is not a John Woo fantasia where characters can systematically mow down entire buildings full of henchmen without getting hurt. Characters die, suddenly and painfully. Police work is a dirty business.

Lam keeps ratcheting up the stakes: from foot chases to frenzied shootouts in crowded restaurants to life-and-death escapes down construction scaffolds. In the big finale between the good cop and bad cop, he throws in an additional element of jeopardy that deserves an award for sheer audacity. So I’m inventing one for him right now: The WTF Award For Craziest, Most Shamlessly Manipulative Imposition of Stakes on a Action Sequence. Congratulations Dante Lam, you’ve earned it. Once action fans see this one, they won’t forget it.

If only the characters were that memorable. No dice. Lam’s action is innovative and clever, but his approach to the characters is the exact opposite: predictable and obvious. We know these cops from so many previous movies. Not a single thing they do surprises us. And while I’ve tried very hard not to spoil the details of the plot, the ultimate outcome of the story will be immediately clear to anyone within the film’s first fifteen minutes.

The result, predictable on the story side, unpredictable on the action side, leaves you with a solid but unexceptional piece of work, another Hong Kong action film as straightforward as its characters’ sad, desperate, exciting lives.

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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