Storm Warriors, The

Reviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 06/29/10 06:07:31

"'Pang' is Chinese for 'Wachowski', going by this slick mountain of FX."
3 stars (Average)

SCREENED AT THE 2010 NEW YORK ASIAN FILM FESTIVAL: My monthly pull at the comic shop is pretty international: North American, British, French, Korean, Japanese. No Chinese, though; not much of that has made it to America in translation. Which means I can't say for sure whether or not "The Storm Warriors" is the closest thing to a faithful translation to the screen, in story and style, that China's martial-arts comics have received. On the other hand, it is pretty much what you'd expect to come of giving Danny & Oxide Pang a bunch of money to make a martial-arts fantasy epic.

In true comic-book fashion, though, we open on a cliffhanger - invading villain Lord Godless (Simon Yam) has captured the legendary hero Nameless (Kenny Ho) and many of his men. A rescue operation is mounted, but Nameless is poisoned and weak; he sends three of his group - Cloud (Aaron Kwok), Wind (Ekin Cheng), and Chu Chu (Yan Tang) to call upon reclusive Lord Wicked (Wong Tak-bun) for help. Given that Godless's son Heart (Nicholas Tse) is rampaging across China, Wicked opts to use a short-cut, teaching Wind to tap into "the evil way" while Nameless transfers his remaining power to Cloud. Wicked opted to teach Wind because he displays more self-control, but his training is interrupted. As Godless and Heart approach the Dragon's Tomb, will Wind's self-control hold, or will Cloud have to stop his comrade?

At first glance, The Storm Warriors doesn't necessarily feel like the place where an uninitiated audience would feel comfortable jumping in; it's not just an adaptation of a story from a long-running comic book serial, but also a sequel to 1998's The Storm Riders (Kowk and Cheng return from the first film). It is, however, fairly easy to get into. Despite having a vast mythology to pull from, the story in Storm Warriors is fairly self-contained and easy to grasp. And as complicated as these mystical fighting universes can be - at least, based upon their Korean and Japanese cousins - the Pangs and their co-writers don't ask the audience to remember a lot of detail: If you can understand that Wind tapping into an evil force is going to have an effect on him - your basic "power corrupts" scenario - you're about 75% of the way there.

The counterpoint to this, though, is that it's knowing those details about how all those powers work and what their limitations are that actually makes the battles exciting. That's the case whether you're talking about Pokemon, Marvel superheroes, or mystic martial artists. Otherwise, there's a very good chance that you end up with action scenes where, to the uninitiated, characters just seem to be posing at each other, maybe yelling the name of a technique, and being blown away by special effects that are summoned out of nowhere without pattern or reason.

Now, they're very cool special effects. Danny and Oxide Pang, whether working together or separately, in Hong Kong, Hollywood, or Thailand, have always been able to conjure up magnificent imagery, and they've got the budget and mandate to do what is probably a record number of effects shots for a Hong Kong film. Large chunks were probably shot on a digital backlot, the combat scenes are grandiose and have ultra-cool imagery that conveys the power that most of the characters can wield without trivializing it, and both the opening credits and other bumpers are comic book mayhem brought to highly stylized life. The live-action elements are impeccably designed.

The Pangs have a nice cast to go with their visuals, too - they inherited Kwok and Cheng (but have worked with them in the past), who slip on their old characters like gloves, managing both a comfortable mastery of their powers and the knowledge that they have much they need to learn. Yan Tang and Charlene Choi Are enjoyable contrasts as their respective love interests. Lam Suet is on sidekick duty, and the villains manage to be somewhat underused: Sure, Simon Yam is kind of cashing a check as Lord Godless, but he projects raw power and megalomania well enough to earn it; Nicholas Tse, meanwhile, is delightfully sadistic as Godless's son Heart, a vicious little monster with a few tricks of his own up his sleeve.

None of them get to do a lot of great acting - though there's romance, heroism, and tragedy, this movie is mostly about the flashy eye candy. That's probably also one of the reasons why it's one of those movies that just won't end; even though one villain has been dispatched, that just seems like an excuse to move on to another subplot, until the Pang's have gotten every cool image from the source material they can. It's exhausting, and as much as it's nice to see them giving the movie everything they can, maybe they should have saved a bit for the next sequel.

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