The Storm Riders
After years of losing out at the box office to big-budget Hollywood movies, some of Hong Kong's most talented film-makers teamed up to create The Storm Riders. Taking two years and over ten million US dollars (both an eternity and fortune in the quick-paced and tight-budgeted world of HK cinema), the film created quite a storm of its' own upon release, becoming the top box-office draw for 1998 and revitalizing the wuxia (fantasy swordplay) genre, which had taken a backseat to the latest group of "'new' new wave" directors such as Wong Kar-Wai and Johnnie To, who were more interested in portraying gritty crime movies or social dramas than wire-fu.
It's quite interesting that one of the most financially successful of these directors, Andrew Lau, helmed The Storm Riders. Lau and screenwriter Manfred Wong were behind the Young and Dangerous series, some of the most popular films in recent HK history. Coupled with the fact that Y&D star Ekin Cheng -- along with other Y&D alumni such as Anthony Wong and Roy Cheung -- are featured in the movie, I was a bit skeptical, thinking perhaps The Storm Riders was going to be like Young and Dangerous with swords instead of "choppers".
Boy, was I wrong. The Storm Riders is far apart from Y&D and similar fare. It was definitely a much-needed shot in the arm for the martial arts movie and HK cinema as a whole. Even though some people have decried the film as a sign of the downfall of Hong Kong cinema, saying that like Hollywood, special effects replaced storytelling, it remains in my humble opinion one of the most entertaining movies to come out of HK in recent years.
The story centers around an evil warlord known as Conquer (played by the great Sonny Chiba), who learns from a mystic that two children known as Wind (Cheng) and Cloud (Aaron Kwok) will determine his fate. To keep the children (and his destiny) under his control, Conquer kills their parents and adopts the boys as his own. Ten years later as Conquer controls most of China, save for a small province under the mysterious Saint Sword's (Wong) control, Wind and Cloud begin to learn the truth about their past and set their sights on destroying Conquer.
Okay, so the plot isn't revolutionary -- it's basically the tried-and-true revenge scheme played out in countless other movies. The script isn't that good either. Many characters are poorly developed and come and go on a whim. Whole plot lines (such as the one dealing with Saint Sword) are weakly resolved within a minute or two. The actors (other than Chiba, making a great return to quality movies instead of the B-movie crap like Immortal Combat he's been doing the past few years in the States) range from wooden (Kwok) to just plain dull (Cheng, who must still think he's Ho Nam from Young and Dangerous, because he's still acting exactly like the character, right down to that annoying shit-eating grin). Even the good character actors (like Wong) are given painfully little to work with.
All that being said, I still had a great time with The Storm Riders. It's the ultimate "style over substance" movie. It just looks awesome. No other movie has come closer to capturing the look and feel of an anime (Japanese animation). This is wire-fu at is craziest. Characters can freeze their opponents, turn water into spears or shoot giant fireballs from their hands.
These kinds of things have been shown in a lot of movies before, but, quite honestly, the effects looked like crap and were unconvincing. Not here. Besides a cheesy-looking fire beast, the special effects are really well done -- which is quite a compliment for the filmmakers, since CGI technology in HK is probably a year or two behind that of the US. Coupled with Lau's brisk visual style and the inventive editing techniques, the fight scenes are some of the most incredible ever put to celluoid.
Don't expect a great story or Oscar-caliber performances and you'll enjoy The Storm Riders a lot. Many other films (most notably Legend of Zu) have come out since this movie came out and tried to imitate this its' blitzkrieg style and failed. It takes something special to rope in a potential powderkeg such as this, and Andrew Lau and company have accomplished just that.
AKA: Wind and Cloud
Studio: Golden Harvest
Genre: wuxia (swordsplay)
Director: Andrew Lau
Writer: Manfred Wong
Producer: Manfred Wong
Cinematographer: Andrew Lau
Stars: Ekin Cheng, Aaron Kwok, Sonny Chiba, Anthony Wong, Kristy Yeung, Hsu Chi, Yu Rong-Guang, Francis Ng, Roy Cheung
Rated IIB for violence
Version reviewed: Universe DVD