MushiMinion’s review published on Letterboxd:
Ringo Lam shouts profusely upon a precarious precipice, his voice gone hoarse and the reason for this unbridled rage long forgotten. School on Fire is a complete misnomer as long as we ignore the literal fire in the school halfway through the movie. This is instead about the effect Traid warfare has on ordinary folk who have gotten in way over their head and the law which has failed to protect them.
It's difficult to fault this as an unsuccessful endeavor. The movie is well made and tackles social issues that are worth discussing. However, as Babs and I discussed in great length during our viewing, to someone like me who lacks the necessary historical context for this story, it is a very alienating experience. It's easy to complain about the "Hollywood formula" but that method of storytelling is a standard for a reason. Take the Collab winner from a few weeks ago, The Nightingale's Prayer; I knew nothing about what life was like in Egypt during the 1950's, however the flow of that story gave an outsider like myself an entry point to become attached to the characters before the situation erupted. You could say it allowed those themes to achieve a broader appeal it otherwise might not have had the whole movie focused on women being battered around and sexually assaulted. While I'd hardly be qualified to say Ringo Lam's approach was 'wrong', School on Fire comes out of the gate firing on all cylinders and only escalates from there, which leads to a very miserable experience to anyone who isn't already on that wavelength, or you're Quentin Tarantino.
School on Fire was a ringing declaration of "We need to do better as a society." To a Westerner like myself the primary take away was, "Stay the hell away from 1980's Hong Kong." The final 30-seconds in which the worst of the Triad thugs gets a death worthy of OJ Simpson in The Naked Gun almost made up for the relentless hour-and-a-half of disgust. If violent Hong Kong crime melodramas are a genre you're already into, this will likely resonate with you in a way it did not for me. Personally I would have liked more heart and less guts.