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Cold War 2

Tony Leung Ka-Fai, Chow Yun-Fat and Aaron Kwok get frosty in Cold War 2.

Chinese: 寒戰II  
Year: 2016  
Director: Longman Leung, Sunny Luk
Producer: Bill Kong, Ivy Ho Wan-Ming, Jiang Ping
Writer: Longman Leung, Sunny Luk, Jack Ng Wai-Lun
Action: Chin Kar-Lok

Aaron Kwok Fu-Sing, Tony Leung Ka-Fai, Chow Yun-Fat, Charlie Young Choi-Nei, Eddie Peng Yu-Yan, Janice Man, Aarif Lee, Tony Yang, John Chang Kuo-Chu, Frankie Lam Man-Lung, Zhou Bichang, Terence Yin, Ma Yili, Wu Yue, Fan Zhibo, Kenny Wong Tak-Bun, Alex Tsui Ka-Kit, Cheung Chi-Kwong, Waise Lee Chi-Hung, Felix Lok Ying-Kwan, Kathy Yuen, Jeannie Chan, Leila Tong Ling, Ho Kai-Nam, Ho Wai-Yip, Wong  Man-Biu

The Skinny: The sequel to the hit <i>Cold War</i> looks great and has enough star power to light up a small city, but it’s bogged down by a weak script and dubious directorial choices.
Kevin Ma:
An office politics drama disguised as a cops-and-robbers thriller, Cold War was a major commercial success that turned writer-director duo Longman Leung and Sunny Luk into the next big thing. Following the sophomore slump that was Helios, the team badly needed to deliver another hit with Cold War 2. With more money, a bigger cast and a grander scale, Cold War 2 has everything that audiences should expect from a big-budget sequel to a blockbuster hit. However, it also confirms suspicions that Leung and Luk’s filmmaking skills have yet to match their ambitions.

Cold War 2 picks up directly after its predecessor’s final scene (SPOILER ALERT if you haven’t seen the first film): Sean Lau (Aaron Kwok) has become the new Police Commissioner. Former policeman Joe (Eddie Peng) is behind bars for masterminding the EU van disappearance in the first film, and his accomplices kidnap Lau’s wife (Ma Yili) to force Lau into freeing him. The subsequent hostage exchange leads to a daring escape mission in a crowded MTR station that ends with Joe getting away and Lau in a whole lot of trouble.

The MTR incident leads to an emergency hearing at the Legislative Council to determine who’s to blame for the fiasco. Leung and Luk, whose fixation with hierarchy and protocol in a chain of command paid off handsomely in the first film, throw out even more job titles and random abbreviated titles at the audience. One of those names is Oswald Kan (Chow Yun-Fat), a veteran counselor who is asked by the Secretary of Justice (Waise Lee) to join the hearing panel. Kan joins out of obligation, but he becomes more intrigued when the testimony from Lau’s former rival and Joe’s father M.B. Lee (Tony Leung Ka-Fai) implies a larger conspiracy in the works.

Leung and Luk expand their story’s scope considerably, taking it out of the police station to introduce a more sinister force that is manipulating the police to serve its political ambitions. The idea would be typical second-tier conspiracy thriller fodder elsewhere, but it’s a surprisingly subversive one for post-Umbrella Movement Hong Kong, where distrust towards the police is at an all-time high. Still, Cold War 2 is a China-friendly co-production, which means the filmmakers have taken careful steps – like making sure the big bad is seen holding a UK passport - to avoid anything that would lose that China money.

Unfortunately, the storytelling doesn’t live up to the intriguing concept. Even with frequent Dante Lam collaborator Jack Ng on board as co-writer, the script is bogged down by convoluted plotting, flawed logic and a humorlessness that makes its flaws seem even sillier. The exposition-heavy plot juggles far too many characters that are only plot devices with paper-thin backgrounds. When the film’s emotional moments arrive, it’s hard to feel anything for many actors when they’re barely noticed in this giant ensemble cast.

However, what Cold War 2 does deliver is entertainment. The film eases back on the rapid-fire pace of its predecessor, but the desperate effort to make boardroom negotiations and people in suits arguing as intense as possible remains, as Peter Kam’s bombastic score, the tight framing by cinematographer Jason Kwan, and the intense stare-downs between actors all reach nearly farcical proportions. However, Chin Kar-Lok’s action work remains solid, with a shootout set inside a highway tunnel being the highlight of a talky thriller that is unsurprisingly light on action.

Like the previous film, the cast remains a mixed bag. Kwok does the heavier lifting with a more central role, but Leung easily gives the best performance as the morally complex M.B. Lee. Charlie Young is the de facto female lead, but is barely given anything important to do. Among the new additions, Chow – who does get more screentime than Andy Lau did in the first film – is easily the best with his naturally commanding presence. Unfortunately, Janice Man, who was surprisingly good in Helios, is wasted in a frustrating role as one of Oswald Kan’s protégés.

Cold War 2 recently set the new record for the highest grossing Chinese-language film in Hong Kong, but its success is likely due to a marketing machine fueled by a limitless budget, and a Hong Kong audience hungry for locally produced, star-studded blockbusters than the actual quality of the film. Cold War 2 is passable commercial entertainment, but it also remains one of the most mediocre Hong Kong film franchises in recent memory. Better luck next time. (Kevin Ma, 10/2016)

Availability: DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 3 NTSC
Edko Films Ltd. (HK)
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Cantonese and Mandarin Language Tracks
Dolby Digital EX 6.1 / DTS ES
Removable English and Chinese Subtitles
*Also Available on 2D+3D Blu-ray Disc
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image credit: Edko Films Copyright ©2002-2017 Ross Chen