The bloody death of an undercover policeman gets the Royal Hong Kong Police in a complex situation. Inspector Lau (Sun Yueh), now past his prime, is in charge of the case. Besides the politics of being replaced by a younger officer, Lau must find someone immediately to take the place of the deceased.
The man he has in mind is Chow (Chow Yun-fat with a new haircut is perfect for the serio-comic role) and is recruited for the mission of penetrating the gangsters. He poses as a sly wheeler-dealer of guns for hire. Chow is introduced to Fu (Danny Lee), sort of lieutenant of the syndicate.
Fu is a cautious man and puts Chow to various character tests to assure that security is maintained. In the process, a male bonding is developed between the two supposedly gutter-type characters.
A jewel robbery is set up and implemented with disastrous results, both from the gangsters who panic and police force who can be faulted for lack of coordination. The tragic finale gives the film more dramatic power.
City on Fire is Cinema City’s answer to The French Connection. It is highly animated, fast-moving entertainment. The street photography is highly realistic while the dramatic conflicts are well-controlled to avoid the usual soap opera ingredients. The off-beat Canto-jazz/soul musical score complements the well-balanced acting.