Starring: Ekin Cheng Yee-kin, Aaron Kwok Fu-shing, Simon Yam Tat-wah, Charlene Choi Cheuk-yin, Nicholas Tse Ting-fung
Directors: Danny Pang and Oxide Pang
Category: IIB (Cantonese)
Ever since hitting the box office jackpot in 2002 with horror flick The Eye, Danny Pang Fat and Oxide Pang Chun - or the Pang Brothers, as they are credited in their collaborations - have established themselves as Hong Kong's premier cinematic merchants of dazzling screen visuals and snappy editing.
Both qualities are evident in their latest blockbuster, but so are their now notorious flaws: their inability to establish credible, engaging characters with a solid screenplay renders The Storm Warriors a painfully hollow spectacle lacking a beating, human heart.
Just like 1998's The Storm Riders, the first screen adaptation of Ma Wing-shing's long-running Fung Wan comics, The Storm Warriors is marketed largely on its sheer visual power. And in this aspect the film doesn't disappoint: it's hard not to marvel at the stunning computer-generated imagery that visual effects director Ng Yuen-fai has conjured to heighten the impact of Ma's two-dimensional drawings.
His contributions are especially telling in the film's opening sequence, during a face-off between the heroes and their evil antagonists, as the upstanding Nameless (Kenny Ho Ka-king) does battle with the evil conqueror Godless (Simon Yam) with thousands of (digitally created) swords whizzing through the air; it's soon followed, in the film's first half, by gritty flashback sequences that deploy 300-like visuals to good effect. These effects return later when the two main characters, erstwhile comrades Wind (Ekin Cheng, above right) and Cloud (Aaron Kwok, left), duel in a series of dazzling slow-motion imagery.
It's when the action stops, however, that glaring defects emerge. As a film, The Storm Warriors should have filled the gaps that comics, constrained by the limited space on paper, couldn't. It's ironic that the Pangs, who pride themselves on making parts of the film with a new camera that shoots 1,000 frames per second, can't fill in the blanks needed to give fuller shape to the characters' personalities.
Blighted by stilted dialogue - some of it salvaged by Cheng's lighter delivery and some of it worsened by Kwok's cringeworthy overacting - the film fails to convey the conflicting character traits that eventually lead to the deadly warfare at the film's denouement. That is a shame because Ma's original story offers many threads that could be spun into intricate sub-plots: Wind's struggle to retain his humanity through his budding relationship with Dream (Charlene Choi), for example, could be used to elaborate on emotions and ambitions, and Nicholas Tse's regicidal prince is relegated to the sidelines, when his intent to usurp his tyrannical father's power could be spun into another good story.
The Storm Warriors opens today