Chinese director Gao Qunshu continues his bid to be the country’s top genre film maker, following up his hit visceral spy drama “The Message” with the action packed contemporary western “Wind Blast”. A breathless thriller set in the harsh wilderness of the Gobi Desert, the film overflows with stylish shootouts, chase scenes and fist fights, featuring choreography by Hong Kong action director Nicky Li, who recently also worked on the blockbusters “Let the Bullets Fly” and “Shaolin”. The film has an impressive ensemble cast of Mainland and Hong Kong stars, headed by Duan Yihong (“Hot Summer Days”), the legendary Francis Ng (“Turning Point”), Xia Yu (“Electric Shadows”), Ni Dahong (“A Woman, A Gun And A Noodle Shop”), Charlie Yeung (“After this our Exile”), Zhang Li, Yu Nan, and top martial arts star Wu Jing (“Shaolin”).
The film gets right down to business, with former underground boxer turned hitman Zhang Ning (Xia Yu) and his pregnant girlfriend Sun Jing (Charlie Yeung) fleeing through the Gobi Desert, Detective Leopard (Duan Yihong) and his cohorts Shepherd, Mastiff and Yak (Wu Jing, Ni Dahong, and Zhang Li) in hot pursuit. Also on Ning’s trail are two killers (Francis Ng and Yu Nan), sent by an irate client to silence him and retrieve a vital piece of evidence. Although Ning is soon captured by the cops, the tables are turned as the assassins attack their camp, setting in motion a series of intensifying battles and explosive duels.
“Wind Blast” really lives up to its name, delivering a non stop onslaught of action scenes and excitement. The film is one of the fastest paced thrillers in recent memory, either from China or indeed anywhere in the world, barely pausing from the first frame, with the cast constantly trying to kill each other in one way or another. Gao shows an expert touch for the genre, escalating the action set pieces throughout and keeping the viewer in suspense as to how he’ll next top himself. The film makes excellent use of the rugged and spectacular rocky desert scenery, not just for its wind swept atmosphere, but more importantly as an awesome playground of destruction.
The final act in particular features some jaw dropping scenes, being set in an abandoned town, which Gao gleefully blows to pieces, remarkably without the use of CGI. The film as a whole as a gritty look and feel, with Nicky Li providing some amazing choreography and stunt work, that really makes it seem like the cast were in genuine danger, being thrown off cliffs, out of moving cars and tossed through the air by explosions. Although Gao does at times go a little too far down the John Woo route in terms of slow motion, this never disrupts the overall flow, and the film compliments its glorious natural landscapes with some well-judged visual trickery and editing.
Perhaps inevitably, the plot does suffer, with the film at times seeming desperate to sprint two steps ahead of its already scant narrative. Certainly, Gao seems pretty uninterested in the hows and whys of the characters, being content to move them around like chess pieces and set the up for yet more action. By the half way point, the whole premise of Ning having a photo of his crime boss client has been almost entirely forgotten, with it only popping up again at the end, and even then is only mentioned as an aside. To be fair, this seems entirely on purpose, and the film moves along at such a fast, bold pace that it never really matters whether or not the viewer has forgotten why everyone is locked into their life and death struggles. The cast are all likeable enough to make their characters engaging, and since there aren’t very many of them the film is admirably focused and economic. Unsurprisingly, Francis Ng is the standout performer, lending his killer an amusingly world-weary air, coupled with yet another of his trademark bizarre hairdos.
This further adds to the fun, and helps “Wind Blast” to stand as probably the best modern action film to come from Mainland China to date. Gao Qunshu again proves himself a fantastically genre-savvy director, equally at home with non-stop excitement as he was with character-driven suspense with “The Message” and worthy true life drama with “The Tokyo Trial”.
Qunshu Gao (director) / Qunshu Gao (screenplay)
CAST: Yihong Duan … Xiang Xi
Zhang Li … Han Chaodong
Francis Ng … Mai Gao
Dahong Ni … He Jianzhong
Jacky Wu … Yang Xiaoming
Yu Xia … Zhang Ning
Charlie Yeung … Sun Jing