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With “The Storm Riders” having been a huge blockbuster hit back in 1998, taking the fantasy wuxia genre to a new level with its amazing special effects, it is perhaps surprising that it took over a decade for a sequel to emerge. Finally, a follow up has arrived in the form of “The Storm Warriors”, again inspired by Ma Wing Shing’s best-selling comic, and this time directed by the acclaimed Pang Brothers. The film reunites the two stars of the original, Ekin Cheng and Aaron Kwok in their popular roles as glowering swordsmen Wind and Cloud, back by an illustrious supporting cast that includes Simon Yam, Nicholas Tse, Kenny Ho, Charlene Choi and Mainland actress Tang Yan (“Chinese Paladin III”). The results are nothing short of spectacular, though as with other films by the Pangs, the incredible style and visuals do come at the cost of story and substance.
This time the plot finds Wind and Cloud coming up against the evil Lord Godless (Simon Yam) and his equally nasty son Heart (Nicholas Tse), who, as is usually the case, is out to take over the martial arts world and conquer the kingdom. After even their combined powers, along with those of their mentor Nameless (Kenny Ho) prove ineffectual in the face of his skills, they head off in search of the mysterious hermit Lord Wicked (Wong Tak Bun). Finding him living in a cave, he advises that the only way to defeat Godless is for Wind to train in the ways of the dark side. Unfortunately, Wind finds himself unable to control his newfound strength and is consumed by evil, not only attempting to defeat the villains, but poor Cloud as well.
Chinese costume epics have been getting a bit po-faced of late, especially since the success of gritty films like “The Warlords”, and so “The Storm Warriors” comes as somewhat of a welcome throwback, being filled with over the top characters with amusingly descriptive and literal names. Unsurprisingly, the plot takes a very distant back seat to the visuals, and is a vaguely convoluted affair for what is essentially a very simple story that basically revolves around a series of high powered duels. These are padded out with plenty of overwrought emotions and daft, strained conversations, not to mention an abundance of moody staring, all of which is entertaining and inadvertently amusing. The cast of big name stars all certainly seem to have been having a good time, with Ekin Cheng and Aaron Kwok just about successfully turning back the years and slipping comfortably back into their iconic roles.
Obviously, the main talking point is the film’s visuals, which are indeed spectacular, and feature some of the best special effects seen from Hong Kong to date. The Pangs show their usual stunning imagination and creativity, with some truly amazing scenes that go some way to creating a surreal fantasy world. The downside to this is that the film frequently feels overly influenced by recent Hollywood hit “300”, taking place almost entirely against CGI landscapes. As a result, the film has an odd feel to it, and is never particularly convincing. The visuals are incredibly stylised, with the Pang’s throwing in all of their usual fast editing and technical trickery, making things quite exhausting and confusing at times.
Although this does make for some enjoyable eye candy, the film features an inexplicable overuse of slow motion, with a high proportion of its scenes running at half speed. This needlessly drags out many sequences, offsets any notion of coherent pacing, and actually detracts from the impact of its action. This is a shame, as the film does feature a pleasing number of duels and battles, and though most of these would have benefitted from being more visceral rather than just revolving around characters hurling special effects at each other, it still delivers some excitement. To be fair, there are still a lot of more honest martial arts and swordplay, with some decent choreography, and it’s these scenes which stand out more than the constant avalanche of fancy magic.
Whilst the criticisms which have been levelled at “The Storm Warriors” are to an extent justified, with the film certainly representing substance being thoughtlessly trampled by style, it is first and foremost an event film, and one which certainly succeeds as big budget spectacle. Although it undeniably has its flaws, with adjusted expectations it is still perfectly enjoyable, and makes for a nice change from all the recent would be grounded and gritty historical costume epics, harking back to the wild, wacky and incoherent days of Hong Kong fantasy cinema.
Oxide Pang Chun, Danny Pang (director) / Wing-Shing Ma (screenplay)
CAST: Aaron Kwok … Cloud
Ekin Cheng … Wind
Simon Yam … Lord Godless
Kenny Ho … Nameless
Nicholas Tse … Heart
Charlene Choi … Second Dream
Yan Tang … Chu Chu
Suet Lam … Piggy King
Tak-bun Wong … Lord Wicked