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Having reached its tenth anniversary and with a big budget Pang Brothers directed sequel on the way, the remastered re-release of “The Storm Riders” is both timely and welcome. A massive box office hit on its original 1998 release, the film was a milestone in Hong Kong fantasy cinema, boasting a previously unseen quality and quantity of special effects, out doing even Tsui Hark’s classic “Zu: Warriors from the Magic Mountain”. Boasting an all star cast headlined by Ekin Cheng and Aaron Kwok and including the likes of Anthony Wong, Shu Qi, Alex Fong and legendary Japanese actor Sonny Chiba, the film was a massive event, and set a new standard for the genre.
The plot is classical wuxia style mythology, with an evil overlord called Conqueror (Sonny Chiba) trying to take over the martial arts world. After it is prophesised that two young boys called Cloud and Wind are needed to help him complete his domination, he kills their parents and takes them as his students. The two grow to men under his tutelage, serving as the top lieutenants in his army, with Wind (Ekin Cheng) being more laidback than the rather serious and distant Cloud (Aaron Kwok). All seems to be going according to Conqueror’s plan, until he is told that the prophecy has a second part – that Wind and Cloud will bring about his destruction.
Watching “The Storm Riders” today, it is amazing just how well the film has aged. The computer generated special effects, which were provided by Centro (an effects house which went on to work on high profile films such as “Kill Bill” and “Kung Fu Hustle”), are still impressive, and actually compare favourably with those of many more recent efforts. In this respect, the remastering has certainly been worthwhile, as it serves well to clean up some of the graininess of the previously available release and underlines the imagination and creativity of the effects even more.
The film has a truly spectacular feel, thanks to some excellent production values, with the big budget clearly having been put to great use. Future “Infernal Affairs” co-helmer Andrew Lau’s direction is tight, and he gives the proceedings a suitably epic feel. The martial arts action comes thick and fast, with some great wire work as the characters fly through the air and engage in explosively over the top duels like colourful superheroes. The film was edited by Danny Pang, and his fast cutting technique adds an injection of pace and style that has been copied in countless other productions since.
Perhaps inevitably given the fact that the original comic book series by Ma Wing Shing took several years to unfold, the narrative is rather chaotic, attempting to cram in a huge cast of characters, each with their own motivation and back story. Some do get lost in the mix, and unprepared viewers may find themselves somewhat confused by the alarming frequency with which bit players come and go, often with very little in the way of explanation. However, this isn’t too much of a problem, even for the uninitiated, as the film is an incredible amount of fun, and it’s easy enough just to go with the flow. Certainly, Lau doesn’t take things too seriously, and although this means that some of the more melodramatic aspects of the plot fall a little flat, the film engages throughout.
Of course, to a large extent it is the special effects and action which keep the viewer on the edge of the seat, and “The Storm Riders” is chiefly a visual experience. It’s a real tribute to the obvious effort and craftsmanship which went into it that as a big screen spectacle it has not often been equalled during the ten years since its original release, and it remains as much of a must-see for any self respecting fan of Hong Kong cinema as it did back then. Rarely do comic book adaptations work this well, and the film is one of the very few to have the genuine feel of fantasy made reality.
Wai-keung Lau (director) / Manfred Wong (screenplay)
CAST: Aaron Kwok … Striding Cloud
Ekin Cheng … Whispering Wind
Sonny Chiba … Lord Conquer
Kristy Yang … Charity
Qi Shu … Muse
Michael Tse … Frost
Rongguang Yu … Striding
Alex Fong … Whispering Prince