Thursday, 1 July 2010

Storm Warriors II


Directed by
: The Pang Brothers
Written by: The Pang Brothers
Starring: Aaron Kwok, Ekin Cheng, Simon Yam, Nicholas Tse, Charlene Choi

Big budget, CGI fueled sequel to the original Storm Warriors seeing stars Aaron Kwok and Ekin Cheng return to the roles of mystical warriors, Cloud and Wind. This time Danny and Oxide Pang take the helm for a visually stunning, often action saturated but ultimately hollow spectacle. However, despite some negative reviews, our heroes being bland more often than not and CGI being very much at the forefront of the action, Storm Warriors II is surprisingly entertaining, action packed with the CGI often impressive in its execution.

Cloud (Kwok) and Wind (Cheng) along with their master Nameless (Kenny Ho) have been taken captive by feared warlord, Lord Godless (Yam). Managing to escape, Nameless is severely wounded in the struggle, meaning the fight with Godless falls to Wind and Cloud. Godless is determined to invade China and take it for himself, so Wind and Cloud set about training themselves to fight Godless: Cloud harnessing the power of his master, Nameless, while Wind takes on the "Power of Evil" to strengthen himself for the fight. But as Godless seems near undefeatable and Wind is seduced by the new evil in him, Cloud finds himself battling both a tyrannical warlord and his warrior friend.

Ok, first off, Storm Warriors is light on plot and characterization. Basically one simple set up played out in a series of caves and temples this isn't quite the full on epic many might be expecting. Sure it’s full of visual delight and plenty of action but the film is about a small set of characters caught up in one intense situation. No traveling across magical lands, no epic battles between hordes of soldiers (save for a neat animated sequence showing the slaughter of an army), and no reams of incidental characters. There are a few other characters but they serve little purpose other than to explain a little exposition and then pretty much disappear. For example, Nicholas Tse's evil son of Godless character, who you think is going to fight the heroes come the finale pretty much just disappears towards the end. Likewise Lam Suet's character at first seems to be some sort of portly comic relief but gets sidelined for most of the film. Instead we have the heroes, who despite the two leading men's best efforts are just bland. Thankfully we have the great Simon Yam on board. He is an absolute hoot as the main bad guy and gives the film the boost of menace it so needs.

In addition, the film also feels like a chapter in the Storm Warriors saga, not a complete film. It ends incredibly abruptly, attempting to go for a "cliffhanger" ending which doesn't quite work. However, and considering I said at the beginning of this review Storm Warriors was surprisingly entertaining, action packed and with often impressive CGI, the film isn't a complete write off. The Pang Brothers know a thing or two about impressive visuals (check out the likes of Re-Cycle for further evidence) and the film is certainly a visual treat. Surprisingly a lot of the film has still been shot on live stages and sets’ meaning the CGI is used to enhance the action scenes and the characters powers, rather than create the whole film by. The CGI is often of a high standard and used well to highlight the magical powers of the characters. Some will no doubt be disappointed that the action is more special effects based with the build up promising lots of one-on-one fighting and bootwork only to be replaced by CGI extravagance. But this is the type of film Storm Warriors is: a special effects fueled fantasy, not a straight martial arts film. The Pang Brothers still orchestrate some impressive set pieces including an awesome fight between Cloud and Godless and the final half hour containing fight after fight. Not the greatest choreography (too much use of close ups) but the film at least delivers on the promise of fantastical warriors facing off against one another.

Not a disaster by any means but certainly underwhelming in certain respects, Storm Warriors II is best viewed with expectations lowered and will no doubt be appreciated more by comic book fans and lovers of visually spectacular fantasy than hardcore martial arts fans.

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