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White Storm, The
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by Jay Seaver

"For when simply going undercover or getting shot just isn't enough."
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2014 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: Sometimes, it's not enough for someone to be shot in the chest. They have to fall off a cliff, and there have to be alligators in the river below. That is the attitude Benny Chan brings to "The White Storm", and it's kind of a blast, a throwback to the operatic heyday of John Woo and Chow Yun-fat, only with a couple of even bigger action scenes than Hong Kong could have pulled off back in those days.

Before we get to that, though, we see a Hong Kong drug bust, with rapidly rising detective Ma Ho-tin (Lau Ching-wan) and his lifelong friend Chen Wai-tzi (Nick Cheung Ka-fai) moving in based on information from a third friend, undercover agent So Kin-chow (Louis Koo Tin-lok). This should be it for Chow, but there's a chance to capture international drug supplier Wei Xing-gong (Lo Hai-pang), the "Eight-Faced Buddha" but it involves a perilous joint operation in Thailand. That's how everybody winds up drawing guns (and more!) above that cliff, with the aftermath putting everyone in a new place.

The script is far from perfect - the way they sideline one of the stars for much of the movie in favor of the other two and then make up for it big-time later on with a crazy plot device is a little goofy, and even though it drives the second half of the movie, I don't know if I ever buy into it. I appreciate what Chan and his co-writers are trying to do - it's a neat scenario - but it's a tough sell. But, man, when Chan is shooting things up or banging cars together, it is a ton of fun. The action is concentrated into some big, impressive pieces, with Chan and the action team led by Nicky Li doing some great stuff - there's a car chase/running battle that is as thrilling as it is gloriously over the top, shot beautifully even as some major damage is done. The ending battle is old-school bullet ballet, as good as you'll see.

The shift between environments - the lovely grit of Hong Kong, the gorgeous scenery of Thailand, the gloss of Macau - makes this one of the most beautiful action movies you'll see. Aside from cinematographer Anthony Pun shooting some very nice looking pictures, this is a movie with some very distinct chapter breaks, and the changes in location and general atmosphere that goes with them, even within Hong Kong, help emphasize that without ever making it seem like the hypothetical reels got switched with another film.

Given the way things switch up during the movie, it's actually more important that the cast is on their game than it might otherwise be in this sort of crime movie, and that's not a problem. Putting Lau Ching-wan at the center is a pretty solid way to start; he has played a lot of detectives with a bit of an ego to them and is good at it; Ma isn't far off the template, but it's one of his better outings. He gives Ma the sort of hubris that is easy to get behind and keeps that basic attitude there even when Ma has supposedly learned humility. Louis Koo does a great job of making Chow believably tormented as the world closes in around him before being just as interesting when he comes out the other side. Nick Cheung initially blends into the scenery, but when he gets a chance to take center stage, he doesn't waste it. There's a rpetty strong rogues gallery in Ben Lam Kwok-bun, Ken Lo Wai-kwong, and especially Lo Hoi-pang, who takes Eight-Faced Buddha's position as the alpha villain and runs with it.

So, sure, there are bits that don't make a whole lot of sense, just as is with the case for a lot of old-school Hong Kong movies. But there's also a niftier hook than crime stories usually get, and plenty of action that is as big as it can be and still fit in with the rest of the movie.

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originally posted: 08/27/14 14:30:56
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2014 New York Asian Film Festival For more in the 2014 New York Asian Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2014 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2014 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.

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Directed by
  Benny Chan

Written by
  Benny Chan
  Manfred Wong

  Ching Wan Lau
  Louis Koo
  Nick Cheung
  Hoi-Pang Lo
  Quan Yuan

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