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Musings from the Edge of Forever

Note: This blog expresses only the opinions of the blog owner,
and does not represent the opinion of any organization or blog
that is associated with RONIN ON EMPTY.

Thunderstruck

 Storm Warriors United

When Wind and Cloud unite…you’re in deep $#!t.

Hi, I’m Calvin McMillin, and I like Storm Riders.

Now, of course, my lack of even the most fundamental Chinese reading skills puts me at a disadvantage when it comes to truly immersing myself in the world that Ma Wing-Shing created in his beautifully illustrated comic books, but that hasn’t stopped me from being a fan of the franchise. Still, I’m pretty familiar with the early story arcs since I own almost the entire run of the English language translation of the comic book published by the now defunct company, Comics One (those graphic novel reviews should be coming sometime around 2046). During my trips overseas, I’ve bought several Storm Riders artbooks, desk tchoktkes, and a pretty badass poster of Nameless that I keep threatening to hang up against my girlfriend’s wishes. And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention my bad habit of collecting those little Storm Riders figurines that come out every so often. And of course, I own both Andrew Lau’s initial Storm Riders film as well as Dante Lam’s animated “sequel” Storm Rider: Clash of Evils. Heck, I even introduced the original film at a student-run film festival back at my alma mater, Oklahoma State University (in hindsight, we should have shown Shaolin Soccer instead, but I digress).

In any event, the purpose of this extended prologue is to establish that, although I’m very much a fan of the series, I wasn’t exactly frothing at the mouth at the prospect of the 2009 sequel, Storm Warriors. First of all, I’m older and a bit wiser — the disappointments of The Phantom Menace and The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull have done much to temper my once unbridled enthusiasm for filmmakers revisiting previous successes via sequels. To be honest, I didn’t think we’d ever get a sequel, so the announcement that Ekin Cheng and Aaron Kwok had signed on for a new movie was a great little surprise. And so, the week of the Storm Warriors DVD release, I headed over to Clement St and picked up the two-disc set. I got some kettle corn popcorn, grabbed myself an ice cold coke, and popped the movie into my all-region DVD player. And guess what?

The movie was a major disappointment.

Ekin Wild

 Anybody know the number of the closest Mystic Tan location?

Seriously, WTF? How can a movie be so visually arresting yet so damn boring at the same time, too? Don’t get me wrong: it was great seeing Ekin Cheng and Aaron Kwok reprise their roles as Wind and Cloud respectively, but it’s a downright shame that the Pang Brothers  give them even less to do acting-wise than in the original. These guys are much improved as actors, and yet the filmmakers don’t take much advantage of that.

Look, I liked the first film, but I’m not going to pretend it’s high art. Hell, even back then I knew it was cheesy as hell. But what was great was how it not only got across the major beats of the comic, but it actually looked like it, too. The comic book was never so dark and murky as this movie was. Certainly, the Pang Brothers are entitled to reinterpret what the world of Storm Riders should look like. I mean, maybe the shadows are meant to create atmosphere, help smooth out the effects work, or — more bluntly — help make the environment look less fake and ridiculous — but for me, it didn’t quite work.

Incorporating a  color palette reminiscent of Zack Snyder’s 300 may make Storm Riders look cool, but it doesn’t make for a good movie. If I don’t give a damn about what’s happening onscreen, the viewing experience becomes something  akin to watching someone else play a  video game — maybe the graphics are cool, but the game itself won’t be involving. The only time I was ever emotionally engaged with what was happening  onscreen occurred near the end of the film — and that was in spite of some serious deficiencies in character development. I won’t spoil it, but something pretty devastating actually happens to one of the characters, which makes the resultant CGI assault not just visually breathtaking, but emotionally resonant. Why? Because there’s actual dramatic weight attached to the whizbang graphics. That was the key to this film’s potential success, albeit one the filmmakers unfortunately misplaced.

The supporting cast is pretty hit-or-miss. I liked Charlene Choi’s Second Dream, even though she’s woefully underutilized. Simon Yam’s Godless is cheesy, ridiculous, and pales in comparison to Sonny Chiba’s Conquer in the original film. Nicholas Tse is okay, but — just like Charlene Choi — he’s given very little to do to make him noteworthy. I suppose Kenny Ho looks like Nameless, but the costuming and hairstyling are all wrong — there’s an elegance to Nameless that just isn’t present here.

I think the real missing ingredient in this movie is Shu Qi; Tiffany Tang steps into her role as Chor Chor, and frankly, she just doesn’t compare. It’s not entirely Tang’s fault: her character serves mainly as window dressing until the climax, so it’s hard to gauge how much of that we can really chalk up to Tang. I’m not a Shu Qi fanboy, but I can’t deny that she possesses a certain quality that is inimitable and — perhaps — essential to providing the right feminine touch to the mostly stone-faced sausagefest that is Storm Warriors.

Really, the fundamental problem with Storm Warriors is its overemphasis on style over substance, which manifests itself not only in the CGI, but on its appropriation of the two very worst  aspects of the comic book form — 1) paper-thin characterization and 2) people beating the stuffing out of each other, oftentimes for no good reason. When people use the term “comic book” as a pejorative, this kind of stuff is exactly what they’re talking about.

Nameless Guy

George Lucas’s ideal cast

Will there be a Storm Riders 3? Well, Storm Warriors does end on a quite literal cliffhanger, so they do leave the door open for more installments. Despite my mostly lukewarm comments, I’d actually love to see a director try one more time with this franchise. But let’s be frank here: it’d be awfully nice if these movies were actually good.*

For my money, I’d prefer they’d try something different. Paging Wong Kar-Wai: hire Louis Koo as Nameless and film “A Tale of No Name” instead. Or even better, scrap the Storm Riders sequel and bring me A Man Called Hero 2 — that’s what I really want to see!

Hero Hua 01

I want you…to make a sequel.

Coming Soon: An accident-prone dude, the fun of urban insanity, and the best of the 90s!

* Kozo’s excellent review of Storm Warriors can be read here.

4 Responses to “Thunderstruck”

  1. T.j. Says:

    I have to agree with you on this one. I also feel like the Pang Brothers have gone Hollywood. It seems with Storm Riders, they tried to make it look like 300. They used to make good movies.

  2. ColinJ Says:

    ‘How can a movie be so visually arresting yet so damn boring at the same time, too?’

    One word, my friend…

    Pang

  3. AlHaru Says:

    I feel sorry for you introducing the original movie in a western film festival. It’s like introducing Jackie Chan to audiences who think he is the ample example of Asian men.

    The Storm Riders was great only to certain standards: 2 pop icons at their primes, 1 veteran Japanese actor, Young & Dangerous crew and cast embodied in expensive sets and techniques. It lived up to the Y&D’s (an already dying genre) transition, carefully turned Mr.Cheng gangster image to a more proper one. The movie served many important purposes; unluckily Storm Warriors, just by the look of it, served none.

    While everyone loves to point fingers at the Pangs, I do the opposite. What have the audiences changed in 11 years? I’m not talking about the same crowd who are now in their late 20s or early 30s, those learning how to change diapers or get promoted, but the younger generation who prefers BT to theatre, and Hollywood movies to local films. Pangs made fatal mistakes by trying hard to make their movie look Hollywood, undeniable move yes, but who do they think will buy this crap? People who enjoy 2012 and G.I.Joe over any local films on any given day. All Tier-2 Hollywood action and romantic movies will sell, CGI sells, Uncle Aaron and Uncle Ekin don’t. I have been amused by these two actors who still have the courage to look young in their 40’s. I’m sure teens will find them uncool.

    Pangs never made movies with a heart. Angelica Lee was the heart, they lost grip of her later (Re-cycle). It wouldn’t be that bad if they just copied 300 frame by frame, but these guys seemed to put no heart into making a movie without the help of talents like Ms.Lee; either they were screwing around or trying to cash in from the comic-book fanbase, they screwed up their own names very badly.

    Have not seen the film myself. I based my comments on what I heard and that stupid trailer only. Dante Lam’s “Clash” bridged nothing after all, it was a bad anime sequel with a very unsavory live-action sequel to follow. They’re waste of time, if not lost in time.

  4. Crystal Says:

    Ok, first, I’m with you on Storm Riders. Not every film has to be high art, intellectually stimulating, or change the world. I liked it cause it was fun. Second, I’m with you on Storm Warriors. I was like, who let 300 into my wuxia movie? But my problem is more than that….just strip everything out that makes it likeable. Let’s just say they are on my list (by list I mean reminders to avoid at all costs). Dang, they make me want to watch a WKW film! :)

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