Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Storm Warriors

Oh my. I had high hopes for Storm Warriors (2009), the somewhat tardy sequel to the Wuxia classic Storm Riders (1998), a film I've been a fan of for years. Original stars Aaron Kwok and Ekin Cheng back for another go? Great! Directed by the Pang Brothers? Cool! Er … well, maybe not so cool. In fact, not cool at all. While my boys Oxide and Danny make a mean modern horror (The Eye) and a nifty neo-noir (Bangkok Dangerous, The Detective), it seems they don't know much about Wuxia. There is nothing of Storm Riders in the dreary, tedious Storm Warriors. So dissimilar are the two films, one wonders if the Pang bros even screened the original.

However, watching Storm Warriors isn't a total loss, as comparing it with its predecessor provides a handy lesson in how to make a good Wuxia film vs. how to make a bad one. Let's consider some primary elements:
  • Energy: In terms of physics, the energy in Storm Riders is kinetic, while Storm Warriors opts for pure potential. In the latter film, it's all about waiting, waiting, waiting for something to happen in each scene. Characters brood and sulk and pout and pose, say a lot of portentous-sounding lines and stare into the middle distance. Energy is conserved, defying our natural expectations of some sort of action. And when the action finally comes, it does not satisfy; I've never seen more stilted, unrewarding fight scenes in a film. Remarkably, even when action sequences are fast-forwarded, particularly towards the end, they still drag.
  • Sense of Place: While Storm Riders featured a blend of outdoor location shots, conventional sets and computer-generated backgrounds, Storm Warriors is set-bound and claustrophobic, playing out primarily in one of two murky caves. There's an open, airy, epic quality to the former film, whereas the latter is dark and close and stuffy.
  • Cast: As noted, Storm Riders and Storm Warriors both feature Aaron Kwok and Ekin Cheng, in the pivotal roles of super-powered warriors Cloud and Wind respectively, but the first film also featured Sonny Chiba, Shu Qi and Anthony Wong. In Storm Warriors, Simon Lam phones it in as the villain Lord Godless, and Lam Suet is wasted in the role of King Piggy, a character who does nothing more than complain and munch on potatoes; everyone else is wallpaper.
  • Special Effects: Storm Warriors piles on the CGI and not in any way we haven't seen before … a lot. Particularly curious is the continual use of Matrix-style bullet-time sequences -- really guys? In 2010? It's as if the Pang brothers were so set against letting anything exciting happen on screen that even the sword fights had to be slowed down.
I tried to find some positive spin to impart to this review, believe me I tried. The PR person who sent me the disk to review will now no doubt consign me to the trash bin on his desktop and empty with extreme prejudice, but what can I do? Like I said, I was really looking forward to this picture. It gives me no pleasure to dub it a pretentious, ponderous bore-fest.

But at least we still have Storm Riders. I threw it on after the other film, just to refresh my memory -- what a palate-cleanser. That flick is the real deal. Don't settle for imitations.

3 comments:

Dr. Stan Glick said...

I found Storm Warriors pretty much a waste. I felt in part that, like Tsui Hark's remake of his original Zu movie, it relied too much on special (CG) effects. And did anybody actually even try to act? Sure didn't seem that way to me.

Patrick Galloway said...

As usual, great minds think alike ;)

despikey said...

After watch Storm Warriors, I'm totally agree with you 100%. I have such a high hope of the squeal, but they can't delivery the film right. Very boring, drag and fight scene was not that impress. It made me so mad and sad. I've to find a copy of Andrew Lau's Storm Raider to watch it again. I need to erase the latest one I just saw.