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S Storm
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by Jay Seaver

"Surprisingly, a pretty good bet."
3 stars

If you've seen "Z Storm", the opening title sequence of this sequel will immediately inform you that the scales have gone down a great deal - where the last one sketched out all of Hong Kong as being under the Independent Commission Against Corruption's watch, this one illustrates a soccer game. And while scaling back is generally not a great sign for sequels, it's the best thing for "S Storm"; it frees filmmaker David Lam up to make a more action-packed, entertaining movie.

Though the ICAC usually handles government corruption, all kinds of bribery fall under their purview, including accusations against Tang Siu-hung (Terence Yin), who works at the Hong Kong Jockey Club, one of the world's largest sports books. ICAC investigator William Luk (Louis Koo Tin-lok) brings in old friend and Jockey Club expert Wong Mai-ling (Ada Choi Siu-fan) to consult on the case, but before they can make much headway, Tang becomes the problem of detective Lau Po-keung (Julian Cheung Chi-lam). Their investigations clash with each other and the internal one being conducted by JC's Terry Lun (Bowie Lam Bo-yi), and the trail of an assassin (Vic Chou Yu-min) crosses with Ebby Lau (Dada Chan Ching), a sports-bar waitress with a grudge against gamblers.

Not exactly a diabolical plan that would bankrupt the entire HKSAR if it's not stopped, but it at least offers up some immediate danger, and creates situations where people are in conflict even when the assassin isn't shooting someone at the moment: The ICAC and HKPD teams sometimes have a hard time working together, Po-keung is considered a lazy underachiever, which means being on his team is stalling careers, and though Terry was William's and Mai-ling's mentor, his sense of duty is pulled between the government investigation and his employers at the Jockey Club. Things that start off as side plots (like a social-media celebrity who passes herself off as the philanthropic representative of a large corporation) feed into the main story but at least add a little color on the way.

And action! This film may not be a full-on Hong Kong action extravaganza, but Lam and his team can be impressively ruthless about disposing of characters who aren't going to contribute to the rest of the film or otherwise using a good action sequence as punctuation. For this film, he favors ambushes, things that are over quickly without a while lot of blows or shots being exchanged, but when he does let something play out for a while, like the teams attempting to outfox the assassin in a crowded shopping mall, it's exciting, and Lam will occasionally do something a bit unexpected, like giving the biggest hand-to-hand combat scene to Janelle Sing Kwan, whose Tammy Tam had spent most of the two movies as the cheerful subordinate pulling evidence out of computers.

Sing having more to do is evidence of how Lam has made his protagonists a bit more fun to watch this time around. Giving Louis Koo some folks to play off whose characters aren't basically the same as his seems to loosen him up; his scenes with Ada Choi aren't flirting but feel like a friendship that could go that way if this were a TV show looking for subplots, for instance, and he works well against Julian Cheung as well, with those scenes letting him be both the stiff incorruptible crusader and humanly sad about how isolating that is. Cheung makes for an enjoyable second lead himself, doing the slacker cop apparently irritated enough by that reputation and eventually personally invested enough to show that he made Superintendent by being bright. The bad guys are kind of standard, right down to the European head of the operation named "Benjamin Boss", although Vic Chou makes his assassin more interesting than he could be - not an actual character, really, but balanced between the "mysterious/unstoppable" and "potentially decent" poles well enough. Dada Chan returns to the series in a different role (she was the mistress in Z Storm, the waitress here), and pulls it off will enough for it not to be a big deal.

The way Chan's Ebby is used is an example of how sloppy the script can be, though: She's introduced with a long batch of exposition about how gambling tore her family apart, delivered to Po-keung, and they cross paths another couple of times before it's mentioned that the pair are brother and sister, which seems pretty odd in retrospect. Maybe she was just trying to embarrass him in that early scene, but unless the translation/subtitling missed something, that's hard to figure out until much later, making the relationship feel like something added in a later draft. The climax is kind of messy, lacking many of the direct confrontations between characters that the audience is invested in, and though the self-importance has been dialed back, it still pops up every once in a while, as subtle as the crashing score.

For all that, "S Storm" is still a marked improvement on its predecessor, offering no penalty to those looking to skip "Z Storm". It may be a fairly standard Hong Kong cop movie, but it does the required bits fairly well, and at least makes a decent case for maybe setting these characters investigating corruption again.

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originally posted: 09/22/16 06:13:17
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  N/A (15)

  16-Sep-2016 (MA)

Directed by
  David Lam

Written by
  David Lam

  Louis Koo
  Julian Cheung
  Vic Chou
  Ada Choi
  Dada Chan
  Janelle Sing

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