Sunday, January 02, 2022

G Storm

Is the week after Christmas kind of a dead zone, movie-wise, in Hong Kong the way it is in North America? The West pushing its way into every nook and cranny and its pop-culture exports have certainly made it a widespread secular holiday, but I'm never sure exactly how much places like Hong Kong or Japan build their calendar around it, especially with the lunar new year not being so close.

I ask because I don't know that this is exactly dumped, but it is kind of notable that this movie doesn't really have the big, CGI opening its predecessors did. The last bit is also extremely rushed and light; not only does the movie climax on something where most filmmakers would slow down and sort of watch the impact on the characters play out, but the "crime does not pay" ending it jumps to is pretty frantic. Also, given how those endings are often tacked on so that a film can play in Mainland China, I wonder what the conversation between the Ching brothers and their father is about in Mandarin, because it's almost certainly not a comedy bit about the older man not remembering which one of his sons is gay and which one is just a workaholic but being okay with both.

There's also a bunch of writers credited, like the producers were trying to hit some target that has become more elusive. With China taking more control over Hong Kong in the past few years, I imagine that there's more pressure to not talk so directly about there being corruption to root out. It really feels like the ground shifted underneath this one, they maybe couldn't do reshoots because of Covid, and they put it together as best they could.


Indeed, I wonder if Louis Koo wasn't available for reshoots or something and they just pieced the last five minutes together as best as possible, even if it means either stopping the series dead or having to do a massive retool should they do another.


Odd one. Personally, I'm kind of mildly surprised that I didn't find a moment to go into the Hong Kong Space Museum where the finale takes place while I was there; it's not off the beaten path at all and is certainly my sort of thing. Also, for all that I think I've said things like "I'd like to see more of Janelle Sing Kwan" in reviews for most of these movies, I just realized that I've had a horror movie she co-stars in on my shelf for a year or so, purchased as DDDHouse was slashing prices on their 3D discs. So maybe I'll give that a watch sometime this week.

G fung bou (G Storm)

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 1 January 2022 in AMC Boston Common #1 (first-run, DCP)

David Lam's "Storm" series has been a peculiarly reliable fixture of the Hong Kong film scene for the past seven years, especially when one considers that he and writer Wong Ho-Wa don't appear to have had many credits in the fifteen years before Z Storm in 2014 and how the industry has favored thematic series rather than actual continuity over that time. There's some strain to this one that makes one wonder if it's time for everyone to move on, though - it feels a little thrown-together and half-hearted, like maybe the attempt to make this sort of thriller during a pandemic and in the region's current political climate was a little much for everybody but the action professionals.

It opens with William Luk Chi-Lim (Louis Koo Tin-Lok) describing the work of his agency, Hong Kong's Independent Campaign Against Corruption, at a conference in "W City" elsewhere in Southeast Asia. He's introduced to a celebrated local judge, Emma Pong (Jessica Hester Hsuan), moments before someone attempts to assassinate her with a suicide bomb. The attempt is thwarted, but it still leaves a body count, leaving Luk and his frequent collaborator in the HKPD, Lau Po-Keung (Julian Cheung Chi-Lam) both worried about providing security for Pong's upcoming speech in Hong Kong and convinced that this ties in with another case where ICAC is investigating various port authority workers for being involved with human trafficking, a string that starts with local businessman Kwong Yai-Long (Liu Kai-Chi), whose contacts include drug lord "King" (Rosyam Nor) and international criminals Schumook (Sienna Li Xin-Yue) and Siu Cheuk-Ah (Michael Tse Tin-Wah), who are willing to ruthlessly cut off any links law enforcement might follow to them. Complicating matters, Luk hasn't been the same since returning from that conference, and ICAC colleague Ching Tak-Ming (Keving Cheng Ka-Wing) spotted half-brother Fei-Hung (Bosco Wong Chung-Chak) driving a truck during a raid that went sideways.

There's a lot going on, which is par for the course with these films - Wong Ho-Wa and the co-writers he's had since second entry S Storm have never had a problem with packing these tightly-paced flicks full of enough twists and subplots to keep large casts busy and have each burst of action redirect things. The trouble here is that this series has never particularly been built for subtlety - the engine that drives it has always been rage at the people who violate a public trust, but "corruption" is sort of a vague specter rather than things people do here, with the targets of the ICAC being killed off in a way that's mostly off-screen and minimizing, or fobbed off on people who are at least vaguely foreign. It offers up layers of criminality and villainy but carefully separates it from what makes it matter to the audience.

It tries to make up the difference by trying to focus on the characters, but that's a mixed bag as well - the most interesting part of giving Luk PTSD from the opening attack turns out to be an ironic dig at the premise of the whole series (the real-life ICAC is mostly following paper trails and pretty much no gunfights), and Koo is much better in the moments when he gets to play intense and emotive rather than frozen. It's nice that they give Janelle Sing Kwan (credited as Anika Sheng this time around) a little more to do in this one, although a lot of that seems to be hinting that Tammy has a crush on her boss. The film tries to engineer a backstory for the Chings but doesn't have a lot of time for it, and Jessica Hester Hsuan's stock noble judge character is fine although never as much fun to watch as the villains.

The action, at least, is pretty darn good, with action choreographer Nicky Li Chung-Chi a go-to guy for people from Jackie Chan to Wu Jing and also responsible for the car stunts in Benny Chan's swan song Raging Fire. He and Lam take a cast of folks who aren't martial-arts specialists and sell a bunch of messy close-in fights that feel messy and like they could go horribly wrong at any second, as well as firefights that are appropriately destructive but make one believe that the main characters could, in fact, have survived that hail of bullets (they are good at using grenades to introduce a bit of chaos into shootouts that are starting to seem too carefully staged). The central car chase is niftily conceived and staged, even if it does occasionally make one wonder about the bullet-proof windshield which is surviving direct hits from ammunition specifically described as military-spec armor-piercing ordnance that the audience has already seen tearing shipping containers up.

That the action is pretty good makes up for the story being bits and pieces connected by "I have a hunch" more times than is really advisable (as well as a random, unexplained bombing). It's able to cruise on being compact and stuffed with a capable cast and action crew, but as it wraps up, it seems reasonable to suggest that there's not enough more to do with this premise despite the Roman alphabet having 21 letters left.

Full review at eFilmCritic

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