Reviewed by Toh Hai Leong
Chinese Title: Feng yun
Director: Andrew Lau Wai Keung
Writing Credits: Manfred Wong
Cast: Aaron Kwok, Ekin Cheng, Michael Tse, Sunny Chiba
Country: Hong Kong
Date released: 1998
Runtime: 128 min
Rating: *** (out of four stars)
How does one bring back the crowds to the declining Hongkong film industry mid the various tried and tested formula genre films - like triads, sex and nonsensical comedy and gongfu - which have seen better days in the late 1980s but somehow fizzled out and lost its sparkle?
What is the strategy? The Sun Tzu's way?
Simple. Bring in the maverick director of the glamour triad flick, The Young and Dangerous and its sequel repute, make him dabble in the sophisticated computer generated imageries (CGI), throw in your handsome angst-effected heroes and two pretty lasses, you have got a box-office winner.
Last Monday from the afternoon -crowd at a big commercial cinema in downtown Mongkok alone, this local film created so much excitement and the half-filled theater (normally there will usually be about 10 or 20 viewers but here in the 2:30 p.m. show, there were 200 at one count!) testified to its success. In the later part of the evening, the long queues were a delightful sight to defy those local critics who scoffed at the dismal future of the Hongkong film industry.
Yes, Storm Riders really created a storm more than last week in the ex-British Colony with its adaptation from a local cult comic book by Ma Wing Shing and it is doing very well indeed at the box office there and over here also - the version I saw in Hongkong was in Cantonese.
Fans of the teen idols-singers/actors, Aaron and Ekin, are sure to take a mouthful of their heroes in wind-gushed and flowing hair macho posturings, be they fighting each other or later take on their chief nemesists, Conqueror, after unraveling his true treachery of domination and usurpation years ago.
You see, the story is the age-old confrontation of good versus evil and now this traditional gongfu epic is so saturated with special effects vis a vis a fiery dragon and flying martial artistes who defy gravity like nothing. The narrative just got subsumed under it all and you will most likely be looking for more flashy pyrotechnics and blasts and cartoonish-like violent actions
Basically, at an overstretched 2 hours 17 minute tale, the fihn traces Wind's and Cloud's upbringing by the megalomaniacal Conqueror (Japanese actor. Sonny Chiba - wonder how the filmmakers got a Japanese to play an evil Chinese gongfu master?) and among the adventures they encounter involve a fire dragon, fire monkey and the proverbial search for the sacred sword.
Like Don Quixote, it is a journey that explores love, lust, betrayal, loyalty; honor, choices, death. friendship, memory and the verities of life.
Aaron is in his element as Striding Cloud and is at his narcissistic best in the opening shots of the film, with his strong pretty face and a newly acquired hunky body, standing half-nude under a pounding waterfall and screaming at the top of his lungs like an orgasmic release of pleasure or is it pain? And hey! He does it again in the later part of the film to reinforce his narcissism - this sure tactic is good enough to pull in screaming hordes of his female fans swooning and fainting in the cold cinemas of Hongkong.
Ekin as Whispering Wind is a little brooding and looks pained and lost when the woman he loves, Charity, betrothed to him, becomes Cloud's lover and she even runs away with Cloud on her wedding ceremony day! With his long feminine hair and that pained expression that speaks of love betrayed, he is the typical Ekins silent wronged lover type he has played to perfection in previous films.
The two supporting female cast gives Storm Rider that much needed glossy and glamorous look. Kristy Yeung who plays Conqueror's pretty and seductive daughter, who is torn between two men and not really deciding on the true lover until Aaron takes the lust move, is commanding for her pretty charisma. But the highly talented Shu Qi (of Iron Sister and Viva Erotica repute) is a little cutesy and lost as country girl, Muse, the doctor's daughter who nurses our injured Wind to health.
Unlike those old-fashioned '60s, black arid white crude gongfu yarns which were tacky and pretentious, Storm Riders tries to be too much flourish and serious. And this is its chief flaw - the two leads taking it all too seriously without the self-parody of say; Chow Yun Fat or Stephen Chow. And those funny, weirdo terms used to describe the swordsmen and the assortment of weapons used, they are just too pretentious with such a deluge of name-tacking, which makes this writer confused as he jots down notes but is unable to follow all of them coherently!
This writer still prefers the great traditional Beijing opera films of the late King Hu. with its philosophical, metaphysical and stoic-like posturings of the protagonists and the nemesis and the grand spectacle of the confrontation between good and bad, with real gongfu moves and not those mighty computer special effects
However, three actors - Michael Tse as Frost, the third person in Conqueror's stable of the twin killers, Cloud and Wind, veteran Yu Rongguang as the short-lived swordsman who gets despatched off within a minute or two, and the actor, Roy Cheung, director Andrew Lau's stable of regulars, as the dignified Shaolin monk who guards his fire monkey jealously, outshine the two leads stealthily. So watch them out - their shortened cinematic life impresses far better than our two serious heroes!