Fung wan II Review
'Storm Warriors 2' (also known as 'Storm Riders') was released in 2009 and was directed by the Pang Brothers. Most famous for their work on 'The Eye' series of horror movies, I have never been a massive fan of the Pang brother's work. Whilst 'Bangkok Dangerous' (the original of course!) was an enjoyable enough affair, I found 'The Eye' (I have avoided the second and third instalments) to be slightly lacking in the terror department and felt that overuse of CGI resulted in a watered down end product (some of the effects looked downright fake in my humble opinion). That being said, the Pangs have undeniable style and I was excited to see how they would handle a big budget martial arts flick. But with some very stiff competition in this genre of Asian movies to compete with, the inventive directors will need to pull out all the stops if they want to impress this reviewer.
The movie is based on a series of manhua comic books by Ma Wing Shin. The comics are extremely popular in Hong Kong, revolve around martial artists who have superhuman powers and are the defenders of China and have been adapted into a TV series/video games previous to this release. The first movie based on the manhua source material was released in 1998. I have not seen this movie personally but my fellow Asian movie review specialist, Mark Botwright, was not overwhelmed by it in any shape or form. That being said, the second instalment, which is the focus of this review, was released eleven years after the original so hopefully some improvements have been made. In an interesting casting choice, both Aaron Kwok and Ekin Cheng reprise their roles from the original, playing Cloud and Wind respectively. The only other big name on the cast is Simon Yam (who starred in the fantastic 'Election' movies, see our database for a review), who plays the “bad guy” in the movie, Lord Godless. The multi-talented Nicholas Tse ('Dragon Tiger Gate') also crops up in a secondary role, playing Heart. There are not many additional secondary characters to speak of, with the plot focusing on the exploits of Wind and Cloud.
At its core the plot is very simplistic. Lord Godless has taken Cloud, Wind, Lord Nameless (one of their buddies) and two of their female companions hostage. But wait, I hear you cry, how did two super warriors such as these ever allow themselves to be captured? Well, the uber-cunning Lord Godless, who incidentally has armour which makes him invulnerable to all attacks, concocted a secret potion that drains super-powers; genius. But the wily Cloud and Wind receive an antidote from an unknown assailant and break free from their shackles to engage Lord Godless and his minions (and his son, Heart). Although they are not powerful enough to defeat Godless, they escape his clutches none the less, vowing to take their nemesis down before he becomes the overlord tyrant of the land. Visiting with Lord Wicked (an armless killing machine if you can believe!), the atmospherically named duo seek advice on how to increase their powers sufficiently to tackle their most deadly foe. They are informed there is only one way and that is to take the path of evil, submerge themselves in the evil pool and complete training in the dark arts. Only Wind has the temperament to undertake this sacrifice for mankind and there is a doubt that he is strong minded enough to resist the temptation to turn himself over to the darkness completely. Meanwhile, the evil Lord Godless is desperately seeking out the Dragon Tomb, which holds China's most closely guarded secret, the Dragon Bone (how original!); which is an ancient artefact that has the power to control the spirit of the country. Time is running out for Wind and Cloud.....
Opening with a thrilling epic battle, I was initially very surprised at how much I was enjoying 'Storm Warriors 2'. The pacing is frantic for the first hour and a half, with the terrific opening sequence setting the scene with fireballs, transfer of powers via electrical touch and millions of flying swords; to sum up, all the stuff that I love to see in a martial arts flick - the more over the top the better in my opinion. The direction from the Pangs is incredibly stylish, with the use of monotone flashbacks to show occurrences in the past and switching to '300' style slo-mo effects during the battle scenes (with some 'Afro Samurai' hints of animation for effect). Some of the shots included are stunning. There are flaming fists, sword techniques that shoot out invisible blades and Wind and Cloud also have the ability to fire whirlwinds and typhoons at their foes (not to mention freeze them to death). You may be reading this thinking that it sounds completely fantastical and you're right, it is, but the frantic pacing somehow makes it all ok (barely). We leap from battle to battle, with the immense score adding hugely to the atmos. This is the Asian equivalent of '300'. There are a few soppy female interests thrown in to aid the rather thin storyline but it's all about the fights for the first three quarters of the movie, which suited me down to the ground.
I have been a fan of martial arts flicks for a long time now. It all started with the viewing of a seminal piece called 'Zu: Warriors from the Magic Mountain' (1983), which really captured my imagination. This movie is like a modern incarnation of 'Zu' and that's why it immediately appealed to this reviewer; with its completely over the top special powers/effects, linear storyline and retarded dialogue. It has charm without doubt, but this charm won't necessarily appeal to all and that's why this movie was slated on its release. For me, there are the “big three” when it comes to martial arts movies; 'House of Flying Daggers', 'Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon' and 'Hero' (in that order). Sure these are commercial but they are three outstanding movies that have characterisation, plot and some tremendous fights (even if they are a little “arty farty” at times). 'Storm Warriors 2' doesn't really compare to these aforementioned heavyweights and it's almost though the Pangs have made a movie that should have been released in the mid-eighties, with modern day special effects. Collectively the cast are just ok and do the best with the god-awful dialogue (and also throw in some cheesy facial expressions for good measure).
As mentioned, this movie is the second instalment of a planned trilogy of movies, with the final part arriving by way of the Pang brothers later this year. This, I believe, is the root cause of the major flaw in this movie. I thoroughly enjoyed the first hour and a half of 'Storm Warriors 2' but in the last half an hour (during the climatic and epic showdown) things began to go awry. It's as though the entire production ran out of steam, grinding to a halt with a hugely unfulfilling (and blatantly obvious) ending, which made me feel somewhat cheated that I had invested my concentration for the duration of the hefty run time. My conclusion to this puzzling choice is that the source material was too dense and the only way to conclude was with a blatant lead up to the third movie. The fact that 'Storm Warriors' is based on a full series of comic books and basically attempts to cram years worth of progression into two hours of run time has probably taken its toll. That being said, I am mildly interested in seeing how the saga will end and might invest in a copy at some stage. So to sum up, this movie is simply great fun, nothing more, nothing less; it's only a shame that it was let down so badly by the abrupt anti climax.