Johnnie To's Lifeline is fifty minutes of shameless melodrama sprinkled with a handful of tautly directed rescue sequences, attached to forty-five minutes of the most massive, intricate, fiendishly plotted "firefighters escape burning building" sequence ever created (it adds to the thrills that Hong Kong doesn't have nowhere near the same safety standards as the United States, either in fire prevention or in filmmaking). This thing makes Backdraft and Ladder 49 look like marshmallow roasts--can't get the image out of my mind of the firefighters groping around in the building's dark belly, when suddenly the huge air ducts that line the ceiling start belching a thick snowfall of sinister dust and ash. You wonder if the firemen are insured against what they are in danger of breathing; then you wonder if the actors are...

If not for the first fifty minutes I'd call this one of To's best, but even the melodrama wasn't that bad--To whips them along nicely, and the actors play their cliched roles as if they've never seen a firefighter flick in their life (who knows?).

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