The White Storm
Dir Benny Chan Category IIB, 134 minutes, opens on Thu Dec 5
Benny Chan’s The White Storm is a throwback to the golden era of Hong Kong cinema in every sense of the word: a hit 80s TVB theme song about honour and friendship serves as the anthem within and outside the film’s fictional world – it’s sung by the fictional protagonists and also used as a backing soundtrack in the climatic shootout. The plot, about three lifelong friends whose friendship, and lives, go awry following a failed police drug-sting in Thailand, is eerily similar to that of John Woo’s 1990 cult classic Bullet in the Head, where three protagonists go to Vietnam in search of fortune. There are car chases, gun fights, and plenty of male bonding. Unfortunately, also much like those old Hong Kong films, The White Storm is overly melodramatic, offers shallow characterisations of everyone outside of the main characters, and is cheesy as hell.
Lau Ching-wan, Louis Koo, and Nick Cheung, three of the most established actors in Hong Kong today, star as the three leads. All three are policemen, but one (Koo, playing Chow) is an undercover cop posing as a high-level drug dealer. It’s established early in the film that Chow wants out of the job because, as anyone familiar with Hong Kong cinema knows, it’s really dangerous and stressful being a rat (or, in Cantonese terms, the ‘two-five kid’).
But Tin (Lau) and Wai (Cheung), respectively the man in charge of the drug bust operations and the sidekick, keep pushing Chow deeper in his role, and eventually the three head off to Bangkok for that ill-fated mission.
There’s a big twist at the halfway point of the movie – right after a ridiculously over-the-top action scene – that transforms The White Storm from standard cops-and-robbers thriller to a full-on homage – or perhaps ripoff – of the ‘heroic bloodshed’ films John Woo made popular in the 80s: where every protagonist lives and dies by a code of honour; where everyone has guns, limitless ammunition and perfect aim; where women are mere one-dimensional dolls, either crying at home or held hostage; where an ‘honourable’ death is the ultimate end.
Those Hong Kong films worked in the 80s, when the dubbed sound (with cartoonish sound effects) and cheap production values made for a campy feel, but in today’s world, it seems woefully out of place.
Chan has always been a strong action director and multiple set pieces in The White Storm are well-choreographed and shot. And if you can get over the laughable twist, the emotional impact is solid because Lau, Koo and Cheung are fine actors. But ultimately, The White Storm is a bloated, overly dramatic, cliche-ridden film. Darren Jung