Hong Kong thrillers have been lifting their game of late, with the likes of “Cold War” and “Firestorm” combining big budget action, star power and contemporary political and social concerns to generally solid effect. “Z Storm”, the first film in many years from veteran director David Lam (“First Shot”) is the latest to try and emulate their success, featuring Louis Koo (“Overheard”) fighting against corruption and financial intrigue in the form of Michael Wong (“Firestorm”), Gordon Lam (“Cold War”) and others, with Dada Chan (“Vulgaria”) on hand in the usual token female role.
The plot revolves around the activities of Hong Kong’s Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) and its investigations into profiteering and misbehaviour in the police force. Louis Koo plays ICAC senior investigator William Luk, the film opening with him investigating a case of extortion involving CCB (Commercial Crime Bureau) Superintendent Wong Man Bin (Gordon Lam). As Luk digs deeper he uncovers a wide-reaching conspiracy linked to the prestigious Z Hedge Fund, run by a shady lawyer called Malcolm Wu (Michael Wong). Under pressure from high officials and his own bosses, Luk is given just a few days to get to the bottom of the matter before the Z Fund undergoes public flotation, his only promising lead being Angel (Dada Chan), a young woman somehow caught up in the increasingly dangerous game.
The motivation behind making “Z Storm” is pretty obvious, 2014 marking the 40th anniversary of ICAC. As such, and with director David Lam having worked at ICAC himself in the past, it shouldn’t be much of a surprise that the film takes a pretty straightforward view of the agency and its heroic struggle against the evils of corruption, painting its themes in resolutely simplistic black and white. Lam attempts to make up for the resulting lack of moral depth and shading by packing in details about financial markets, hedge funds and the like, and by making vague suggestions of government crookedness.
This works reasonably well, and distracts from the fact that none of the characters themselves are particularly engaging (tragic past sub-plots abound), though it does mean that the film is more likely to appeal to those with an interest in the subject matter. Certainly, the film does seem to take itself rather seriously, with several moments of overblown pomposity, including characters proudly announcing ‘as long as there is corruption there will be ICAC’ without any sense of irony, and a thunderclap moment when it’s decided that the ICAC operation to investigate the Z Hedge Fund will be called…Z Storm.
Of course, this does also make for some great moments of unintentional humour, and adds to the overall entertainment value considerably. Though Lam has gone to some pains to make the film true to life, it also packs in some instances of bizarre inaccuracy – most notably a scene where Michael Wong presents a gathering with the ‘sword of famous 19th century swordsman Zoro’ (misspelling notwithstanding), who as most viewers will be aware was in fact a fictional creation. Wong definitely deserves a special mention, as while not exactly noted for his restraint or thespian abilities in general, he here delivers a performance that’s truly amazing, including some top rated rants and moments of scenery-chewing hamminess. Added to this are a frequently ridiculous soundtrack, evil western villains lurking in the shadows and a few undeniably odd moments, and the overall result is a film whose chaotic tone suggests that Lam still thinks it’s the 1990s.
This in itself isn’t a bad thing by any means and along with some slick production values and decent action set pieces helps to make “Z Storm” a worthwhile and fast paced 90 minutes. Though not up to the standard of “Cold War”, which Lam quite clearly tries to ape, it’s a respectable second-tier effort that should be enjoyed by fans of financially themed thrillers.
David Lam (director)/David Lam, Ho Wa Wong (screenplay)
CAST: Dada Chan
Ka Tung Lam
Kai Chi Liu