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Z Storm
Z Storm     Z Storm

(left) Louis Koo and (right) Gordon Lam weather the Z Storm.


Year: 2014  
Director: David Lam Tak-Luk  
Producer: John Chong Ching, Ren Yue

David Lam Tak-Luk, Wong Ho-Wa


Jack Wong Wai-Leung


Louis Koo Tin-Lok, Gordon Lam Ka-Tung, Dada Chen, Michael Wong Mun-Tak, Lo Hoi-Pang, Janelle Sing, Stephen Au Kam-Tong, Derek Tsang Kwok-Cheung, Eddie Cheung Siu-Fai, Felix Lok Ying-Kwan, Liu Kai-Chi, Philip Keung Ho-Man, Tony Ho Wah-Chiu, Cheung Chung-Kei, Clement Ti, Jenny Xu, Crystal Wong, Barry O’Rorke, Alfred Cheung Kin-Ting, Law Koon-Lan, Henry Fong Ping, Joe Cheung Tung-Cho

The Skinny: Government propaganda without the storytelling, wit or style to make it convincing or palatable. Z Storm is laughably developed, questionably acted and badly made. Kind of like a low-budget nineties film, except it was made today and cost a zillion times more. Michael Wong's performance is hilariously terrible and may be worth the price of admission.
by Kozo:

Men in suits yelling at each other = money. Or something. Z Storm may be the first official Cold War copycat, taking that award-winning film’s cops-versus-corruption hook and adding in nifty local themes for a wannabe zeitgeist-grabbing thriller. The filmmakers succeed superficially: Z Storm features well-groomed men in finely-tailored suits yelling at each other in offices while occasionally following them as they head into the field, flashing badges while also wearing the same tailored suits – hey, just like the blockbuster Cold War! Forever biting-off-more-than-it-can-chew Pegasus Films (creators of such era-defining cinema as Magic to Win and Baby Blues) clearly wants a high profile hit, and even hired the bankable Louis Koo to anchor a solid cast of actors. Unfortunately, the little things – like storytelling, filmmaking, intelligence and actual acting – all fall by the wayside, confirming Z Storm as one of the year’s most overblown and potentially harmful Hong Kong films. Yes, I said “harmful.” I’ll come back to that later.

Z Storm kicks off with CCB (Commercial Crime Bureau) Superintendent Wong Man-Bin (Gordon Lam) shaking down accountant Law Wing-Tat (Lo Hoi-Pang), but Wong is not a good guy. Wong is part of a conspiracy behind the ballyhooed Z Hedge Fund, and he and white collar criminal Malcom Wu (Michael Wong) need Law’s reputation as the “industry leader in accounting” to ensure a smooth but shady IPO. Such villainy must be punished, so here comes the ICAC (Independent Commission Against Corruption), led by Senior Investigator William Luk (Louis Koo). Using their handy investigative skills, the ICAC links Wong to Malcom Wu and also the mysterious Angel (Dada Chen), who’s sleeping with Wong, Wu and perhaps other, as-yet-undiscovered figures who – gasp – may be involved with the higher echelons of Hong Kong government. Who else is connected to the Z Hedge Fund and its web of bribery, prostitution and long-winded investment strategy speeches? William Luk and his ICAC cohorts will figure it out like the awesome justice-seeking robots that they are.

The ICAC officers in Z Storm are actually human, but possess little character or story to identify them as such. William Luk carries a past tragedy, but that seems to exist only to connect him to another character and keep the story moving. Otherwise, the ICAC are basically righteous automatons who say, “Where there is corruption, there is the ICAC,” without any trace of irony, and the unfolding case comes with no difficult choices or personal significance. The script is further dragged down by reams of financial jargon, and director David Lam doesn’t spruce up his subject matter to make it interesting to the uninitiated (News flash: Not everyone cares about IPOs or hedge funds). Action is sparse, storytelling is clumsy, continuity is crappy, cinematography is ugly, tension is absent and acting is sometimes bizarre. Eddie Cheung, as a high-ranking ICAC officer, proudly announces the name of the operation (“Z Storm”, natch) like he’s naming his first-born child. I’ve seen better movies shot on VHS-C.

The impressive cast doesn’t compensate for the unimpressive everything else. Louis Koo is likable and righteous, but doesn’t bring anything unique to his already uninteresting character. The many character actors play mostly types, from Gordon Lam’s smarmy corrupt cop to Liu Kai-Chi’s jittery private dick to Lo Hoi-Pang’s compromised accountant. Dada Chen emotes gamely in the female lead, but her character doesn’t make much sense. The film’s true villain is a dastardly European (Barry O’Rorke), who sits in a draped-in-shadow swivel chair and acts like he’s in a bad James Bond parody. O’Rorke’s acting consists of crappy dubbed Mandarin, but even O’Rorke gets a pass when you consider Michael Wong. As the slimy Malcom Wu, Wong shows that he still has no idea what good acting is, despite earning positive notices before for actual OK performances. Wong’s financial speeches (In mixed Cantonese and English!) can be hilariously stilted or droning, and his more animated moments consist of douchey zingers that make him sound like an entitled frat boy. Wong’s performance is kind of fun but naturally for all the wrong reasons.

Z Storm earns its social edge by referencing Hong Kong issues and entities, such as real estate zoning scandals, allegations of corrupt officials, infamous industrial accidents and local charity activities. The sheer abundance of Hong Kong-specific content entertains but also panders; local audiences will enjoy the ripped-from-the-headlines references but others, including audiences in the target market (i.e., the mainland), might not be so amused. Also, the references fail to add up to more than name dropping, and don’t contribute to the film’s story or themes – of which there don’t appear to be any. Z Storm is like a government-sponsored police procedural, and features no ambition or wit to go with its excessive detail and “the ICAC is righteous” fluffing. Thrillers about well-groomed cops may be all the rage, but good narratives and strong (or any) themes are important too. Z Storm is cinematic flotsam that says nothing beyond “Corruption bad, ICAC good.” It could have – and obviously should have – been something more.

The harmful part of Z Storm is how it might affect audiences. Hong Kong’s current trend of cop thrillers – from Cold War and Firestorm to even the Overheard films – may not be uniformly exemplary, but they’ve got strong ambitions and a professional sheen that justify their big budgets and ballyhooed marketing. Final results aside, these films attempt quality, while Z Storm costs a lot but wastes its deep resources in an alarmingly shallow manner. This is the film industry taking a hit formula and aping it transparently, further testing the faith audiences have in Hong Kong Cinema. We’ve seen this happen before: It’s the rinse-repeat cycle of a successful hit followed by weak imitations – it happened with wuxias, triad films and it’s currently happening with Category III “vulgar” cinema. Compared to other, more robust film industries, Hong Kong film has a comparatively small margin for error. Z Storm is a mistake filmmakers would be wise not to repeat. (Kozo, 6/2014)

Availability: DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 0 NTSC
Vicol Entertainment Ltd. (HK)
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Cantonese and Mandarin Language Tracks
Dolby Digital 5.1 / DTS
Removable English and Chinese Subtitles
*Also Available on Blu-ray Disc
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