The Storm Riders was one of my first loves of Asian cinema. Based on Ma Wing Shing's best-selling comic, Andrew Lau’s fantasy adventure opened my eyes to a brave new world of cinematic wonder. Boasting the best special effects ever seen in a Hong Kong film at the time, it went on to break box office records with a blend of comic book adventure, wuxia mythology, overblown action and larger than life characters.
Ten years later and The Storm Riders are back, this time directed by The Pang Brothers, two of my favourite Asian directors. Ekin Cheng and Aaron Kwok reprise their roles as Wind and Cloud, taking on Simon Yam and Nicholas Tse as the villains of the piece. Kenny Ho makes an appearance as Nameless, while the effortlessly adorable Charlene Choi takes over from Shu Qi as chief eye candy.
Lord Godless (Simon Yam) and his son Heart (Nicholas Tse) are trying to take over the martial arts world - it is a day that ends in ‘y’ after all. Our three heroes aren’t strong enough to defeat Godless and his impenetrable body armour, so they seek the help of Lord Wicked (Wong Tak Bun), who convinces Wind that harnessing evil is the only way forward. Godless has other plans though, forcing the Emperor (Patrick Tam) to reveal the location of the powerful Dragon Bone relic. Will Wind be able to control his newfound powers, or will he lose himself to the dark side? What will become of Cloud, and why is the entire movie set in a cave? The Pang Brothers had better not mess this up…
It pains me to say it, but the Pang Brothers have delivered one of the most disappointing movies of the year. Even without the hype and heavy burden of anticipation, the two brothers have produced a movie so one note, so pedestrian, that I find myself comparing it unfavourably to Tony Jaa’s bloated sequel to Ong Bak. The two films certainly have a lot in common, and as a result Storm Warriors and Ong-Bak: The Beginning walk the same awkward path to critical annihilation.
Both films look stunning. Storm Warriors can best be described as a special effects showcase, but that’s really not a compliment. The Pang Brothers appear to have spent so much time on the CGI that they’ve forgotten to include anything resembling a storyline, and after a ten-year wait Storm Warriors really doesn’t make the grade. The battle scenes are lost beneath a tidal wave of cool effects, and most of the action is unintelligible because they’ve set the film at the foot of a giant cave, a very dark giant cave.
The dialogue wasn’t great in the first film, but it did fit the mood and mythology of the piece. In Storm Warriors it just seems lazy, not to mention a little bit daft, but all would be forgiven if I were having some fun along the way. The Pang Brothers choose a dark path, not just in its most literal sense, and Storm Warriors fails to find any sense of adventure at all. Or scope for that matter. Setting your movie in a cave might cut costs (all the more money to spend on the fancy CGI) but it doesn’t give the actors anything to work with, and it doesn’t draw the viewer in to the vast and beautiful world hinted at in the original movie, unless of course Lord Godless really does have a thing for underground hollows.
The characters in Storm Warriors have taken a backward step too. I know less about them now than I did after the first film. The new additions to the cast suffer a greater fate than that of Wind and Cloud because the script doesn’t allow for any kind of back story whatsoever. We are expected to accept that Godless and Heart are evil, and that’s that. Wind’s fall from grace could’ve been a thing of beauty, but by the time he succumbs to the dark side we’ve all ready seen everything the film has to offer, several times in fact. That would be gloss, gloss and more gloss, painting over the cracks of merciless failings.
Ong-Bak: The Beginning did at least bring a collection of inventive set pieces to the table, the Pang Brothers are more than happy to repeat the same fight scenes over and over. Then there’s the ending, both films lack conclusion, opting to pave the way for further instalments instead. Storm Warriors will leave you with a sense of, ‘Is that it?’ and nothing more. I should be looking forward to a third instalment in the series but right now I’m not so sure. The Pang Brothers have missed the mark completely, presenting us with a hollow showcase for their fancy special effects repertoire.
Looks like I’ll be returning to the original movie in future. A film so alive in colour, ambition and wonder, it makes you realise just how disappointing this belated sequel is. Another entry in the series is welcome, but give it to someone who gives a damn about storytelling next time, and forget about the cave already. AW