The Storm Warriors
A decade on Ekin Cheng and Aaron Kwok return as Wind and Cloud in this highly-anticipated sequel to The Storm Riders by The Pang Brothers, directors of The Eye – but if special effects have come a long way in that time, the art of narrative seems somewhat lacking…
Back in 1998 The Storm Riders was a pivotal moment in Hong Kong filmmaking. Directed by Andrew Lau and co-produced by digital effects company Centr0, it was one of the first HK films to use CGI to great effect. Based on the popular manhua or comic book by Ma Wing-Shing, Fung Wan, it reinvigorated the wuxia / swordplay genre – just in time for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. But whereas Ang Lee would play up far more traditional influences of the 60s and 70s, Lau pulled heavily his own popular Young And Dangerous to appeal to a post-MTV generation.
(And arguably it helped the comic book movie makeover boom of the late 90s, early noughties, too.)
Now the Pang Brothers (whose Danny Pang co-edited the original) have brought together the original leads Cheng and Kwok for a spectacular, dazzling follow-up.
Many years on from the events of The Storm Riders, China now finds itself in the grip of an invading army led by ruthless Japanese warlord Lord Godless (Simon Yam, Vengeance, Election) and his son Heart (Nicholas Tse, The Promise, Bodyguards And Assassins), both hell bent on ruling the nation. Wind (Ekin Cheng, Tokyo Raiders, Forest of Death, Heroic Duo) and Cloud (Aaron Kwok, Murderer, Divergence, Saviour Of The Soul) are not a match, and even legendary martial artist Nameless can not defeat him.
With time running out for China and the captured royal family, both Cloud and Wind try desperate measure to turn the tables: Cloud becomes Nameless’ new disciple, creating a new sword fighting style; Wind decides to learn evil martial arts, but can he keep his dark side in check? Soon these old friends find themselves pitted against each other for the future of China.
I rather liked the idea of picking up the story so long after the original timeline, consciously echoing the passing of time between films in the real world, rather than trying to make a direct sequel and have the actors pretend they’re the same age. (Mind you, not that Kwok looks any different other than appearing to have spent all that time in a gym!)
So there’s no need to worry if you’ve never seen the original. Trouble is, even if you have seen Storm Riders you may well feel like you’ve walked in halfway through the film. Never ones for overdoing expositions, the Pang Brothers drop you straight in the action, and never let up, taking us from one conflict to another. Sure, it’s exciting and definitely keeps the attention levels up, but it’s not, well, you know, a movie, is it?
The cast do the best with what they have, but there’s little for them to get their teeth into. Kwok, in particular, is engaging as Cloud, with his character finally learning to care about something or someone other than himself. But there are subtleties in their portrayal and subplots that are lost on all save the most devoted of the original comic books.
Visually the film is stunning. The quality production of sets and costumes, mixed with seamless compositing of CGI effects is superb. All of which goes to show just how far computer graphics have come since the original film (which itself didn’t look bad considering the undoubtedly limited budget available).
One sequence in particular, when Heart is shown cruelly pursuing Nameless and destroying every martial art school he comes across in the process, however, hints at an even more striking visual route. Taking it’s cue from the Frank Miller style of Sin City and 300, reflecting the comic book roots of the story. It would have been great to see much more of this in the film, even if it might have brought comparisons with the latest from the green screen king, Casshern director Kazuaki Kirita, Goemon. (Though there are intimation’s that would have just proved too expensive.)
Storm Warriors is a highly enjoyable, quality action production. I just wish they’d paid a bit more attention to the script.
The Storm Warriors is released Monday 12 July on Blu-ray and DVD by Cine Asia.
Distributor: Cine Asia (UK)
Superb master of the film, with great visual depth. Pretty well fixed for extras too, with interviews, making of featurettes and trailers – though Oxide Pang's revelations quite shockingly show how game, and professional, Cheng and Kwok are despite personal injury.