There is something to be said about a movie which has a hero who, when faced with certain defeat, decides to tear off his own arm and use it as a weapon against his opponent to secure his escape so he can fight another day. That’s the kind of imaginative scene that exists in abundance in The Storm Riders, a Hong Kong movie that tries to blend Western special effects with good old fashion Hong Kong wirework so prevalent in period martial arts movies. The result is, well, mixed.
Depending on your knowledge (or lack of knowledge) of what has become known as cgi — that is, computer-generated image (images created in the computer and inserted into a movie) — and blue screen moviemaking, then this movie may or may not work for you. Blue screen, incidentally, is the usage of a blue (or sometimes green) screen to film live actors with intentions of turning the blue/green screen around them into a cgi or previously-filmed background later on. Unfortunately for Riders, I am of the generation that has witnessed the coming of Terminator 2’s T1000 and another James Cameron movie, The Abyss, both of which pioneered the “new age of moviemaking” — the technical age, where anything you can dream of can be made on a computer with the right software. And as such, I was not overly impressed by the use of cgi and blue screen in Riders.
To be sure, the movie itself is very entertaining. The story is heavy on melodrama and martial arts fight scenes, both elements necessary requirement for every Hong Kong period martial arts movies. Unfortunately, the fight scenes leave a lot to be desired, and rely too heavily on sfx and cgi instead of the actors doing actual martial arts. This leaves one to think that the actors are not very proficient in the art they’re portraying, which takes away from a movie already lacking in believability.
What’s worst, some of the cgi works are so shoddy and obvious that it is next to impossible to completely immerse oneself in the movie’s world. In fact, even the wirework, a technique pioneered by Hong Kong filmmakers, is awful in this movie. They are so blatant and obvious and jerky in their usage that I wonder if the actors complain afterwards. They must have, by the way they were jerked up and down like marionettes instead of actors. They didn’t look like they were “flying,” but rather hopping — and doing so rather awkwardly.
Aside from all those negatives, what saves the movie are the overblown scenes like the one with the arm. Scenes like that, and others involving fire monkeys, what looks like a tiger on fire, and a crowd-pleasing scene towards the end when a character called Saint Sword appears in a no-holds-barred fight with the movie’s chief villain, Lord Conqueror, and literally walks on air like God himself while freezing all of his opponents in mid-stride. That one sequence is easily the best and most innovative sequence in the whole movie, but unfortunately it lasts for less than 3 minutes, and then it’s back to bad cgi and bad wirework.
Oh, you wanted to know what the movie is about? Here it is in a nutshell…
Striding Cloud and Whispering Wind (yes, these are the characters’ names, I didn’t make them up, though I am curious to see if the names were translated properly in the subtitles from their original Chinese names) are orphans whose parents have been killed one way or another by Lord Conqueror, who wants nothing short of, well, conquest of the entire “martial arts world” as he declares quite often. Following a prophecy charted by a soothsayer name Mud Buddha, Conqueror makes Cloud and Wind his own boys, joins them with his daughter Charity and another orphan, Frost Fist (once again, yes, these are both their names, I’m not making them up), and raises them as his own.
Anyhow, the boys grow up, learn about their pasts, and tries to kill their parents’ murderer. Chaos ensues. Oh, and along the way, Charity and Cloud falls in love, but Conqueror decrees that Charity must marry Wind, much to Cloud’s chagrin. As per their names, Cloud has power over water and can form them out of thin air; Wind can, well, control wind and fly around; Frost can form frost on his fists and punch people, thus turning them into icemen; and Charity, well, is around to look pretty and then die halfway through.
I cannot truly tell you whether a single person in this movie actually knows martial arts. The fight scenes are so heavily doctored and filmed in fast-motion to slow-motion to jagged-motion that it’s impossible to know if the actors actually know anything when it comes to true martial arts. Obviously this is a shortcoming, particularly when compared to other greats of the martial arts genre like Jet Li and Jackie Chan and numerous others. What little normal-speed action that does exist in this movie without the help of wireworks are not very convincing. They are, in fact, very slow and poorly executed.
The movie also suffers badly from an infusion of too many characters. I count at least 15 main characters that come and go without notice. The strange thing is, a lot of characters that really doesn’t mean much in the final scheme of things are given backgrounds to flesh out their characters. The movie is around 2 hours, and many of the characters really did not need to be there. Some appear to cause trouble and never be heard from again; others are introduced and runs around the rest of the movie doing very little except taking up screen time.
Still, despite all that, I can’t help but like a movie where a person with God-like powers is defeated when a curious young woman simply pokes him in the chest out of curiosity. Not that’s nutty.
Wai Keung Lau (director) / Wai Keung Lau (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