Wednesday, December 09, 2009

The Storm Warriors (Fung Wan II / 風雲Ⅱ)


It has been a long wait, but better late than never. When the first Storm Rider film was released I remembered it caused a stir, for its relatively seamless combination of special effects and martial arts, and for its departure from the established mythos by creator Ma Wing-Shing. Then there is the casting, with popular idols Aaron Kwok and Ekin Cheng in the leading roles, overshadowed by the magnificently charismatic Sonny Chiba! That was some 11 years ago, and given its box office success, a sequel was thought to be expected and imminent, with big name stars like Andy Lau even thrown into the hat at one time as Nameless, but alas the project got stuck in development hell.

It was during an interview session for that my friends and I had the opportunity to meet up with Ekin Cheng, and toward the end of the interview he had revealed to us quite candidly that the next Feng Yun film would be made soon, which was why he's keeping his locks after a bald turn in the television serial Huo Yuanjia. We thought he was kidding, or we had heard it wrong, but here we are now, with the Pang Brothers taking over the helm from Andrew Lau, and no, there's no Andy Lau, but long-time-no-see Kenny Ho taking over the role of a pugilist master.

While the Pang Brothers are famous for their horror-suspense-thrillers, they had brought with them those sensibilities honed over the years and tweaked them for this sequel. Gone are colours from the first film, and in comes grittier shades, complete with plenty of metallic clang courtesy of heavy armors, and cloudy shadows possessing powers of sword energy. The story here is pretty straight-forward and had dove straight into the thick of things, with the first film having established the background of the key duo already, and here we see a more mature take probably taking place years where the earlier film had left off.

To get there though, we have to read a lengthy prologue, where Lord Godless (Simon Yam) and son (Nicholas Tse) had invaded China and are seeking the fabled Dragon Spinal Cord (or at least it looked like one to me). They magically managed to capture most of China's top pugilists including Nameless and Cloud, and basically presented a scene to demonstrate just how badass the Godless father and son team can be, which translates to an opportunity to showcase how advanced the special effects have evolved in the Chinese martial arts arena.

Danny and Oxide Pang managed to retain signature key elements from the first film, such as the CG generated, fantastical backdrops in which our heroes do battle in, and little things like the animated opening credits scene. The fights though was a mixed bag, some brilliantly executed though falling for the slow-motion fad, while others succumbed to too quick a cut and too close an angle to make out what's going on between the sparring partners.

Those familiar with the mythos would welcome both Aaron Kwok and Ekin Cheng back into their roles of Cloud and Wind respectively, and frankly I couldn't fathom how anyone else could have stepped into these roles. Simon Yam as Lord Godless unfortunately didn't bring to the table the kind of charisma that Sonny Chiba had, and struggled to fill those shoes, made worst by a very poor characterisation of what's ultimately a weak villain, though one would expect that the combination of Wind and Cloud would render all their enemies powerless against their sheer combined destructive force.

The story here took a chunk out of the fact that Wind turned evil at one point, and thus that actually became the crux of the story, although I felt this was more of a Cloud story than a Wind one because the scenes in which one had over the other, was rather obvious, with screen time significantly devoted to training montages, and rescue missions, versus Wind turning into an incredible hulk through an immersion in evil waters (yes, seriously, he just stepped into a wading pool, and voila!)

So story aside, watch this for some of the mind-boggling action sequences between Wind and Cloud which the trailers had included, and had almost the last 30 minutes solely focusing on some massive action sequences that didn't seem to want to end. One of my favourites was the Battle of the Minds sequence, where no self-respecting martial arts film can find itself shying away from using tonnes of water, though Storm Warriors had a legitimate reason to (with rain the aftermath of a wind-cloud combination). If there's a fight scene that stood out, this was it, other than Nameless Vs Lord Godless which left you wanting for more right from the start.

Alas this film is but half a movie, ending with a literal cliffhanger. But if all bodes well, we should see the next Feng Yun film hit the screens sooner than the 11 year wait that we have been subjected to. It's true about the limited dialogue here (some of which were quite hilariously nonsensical, such as the naming of sword strokes), but hey, one comes with the expectation of a flashy, style over substance sequel, and it duly delivered.

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