MAAC Review: THE WHITE STORM 2 – DRUG LORDS

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Released in 2013, Benny Chan’s The White Storm was an homage to the heroic bloodshed movies that became popular in the 80’s and 90’s, especially those from director John Woo. Featuring a star filled cast of Lau Ching Wan, Louis Koo and Nick Cheung, it was overflowing with themes of loyalty and brotherhood as well as featuring numerous scenes of ballistic gunplay. Although it did not reach the highs of some of the classics in the genre, it came pretty close.

The sequel however is an altogether beast. Like many Hong Kong sequels, this is only a thematic sequel, with no plot links to the first movie. Retaining only Louis Koo from the first entry, The White Storm 2: Drug Lords is more a topical crime thriller about the ever rising drug trade.  While it loses both Lau Ching Wan and Nick Cheung, they are suitably exchanged for superstar Andy Lau and to a lesser extent, Michael Miu. 

Lau portrays Yu Shun-tin, a one-time member of the Ching Hing Triad who has now bettered himself to become a famous philanthropist. We are first introduced to him years before, where his boss (Kent Cheng) forces him to punish his friend Dizang (Louis Koo), who has been trafficking drugs without the consent of the Ching Hing. 

As well as losing three fingers, Dizang is ostracised from the Ching Hing. He uses this as the catalyst to become Hong Kong’s number one drug trafficker. Meanwhile, Yu turns his back on his criminal lifestyle to become a successful businessman with a loyal wife (Karena Lam) by his side. 

After his illegitimate son dies because of his drug addiction, Yu makes it his mission to stop the no.1 drug trafficker in Hong Kong, even going so far to put a hundred million bounty on his head. This makes things difficult for dedicated cop Lam Ching-fung (Michael Mui), who now has to protect the very person he was working to capture. 

The White Storm 2 is a much less epic tale than its predecessor, with thinly drawn characters that rely more on the actor’s charisma than any actual character development. Whereas the first film was based around the relationship between the three leads, the friendship between Lau and Koo’s character is almost perfunctory, with the script by Erica Lee, Eric Lee and director Herman Yau not really giving the two leads much to play with.

The script has the typical clichés found in action movies such as a character proposing to his girlfriend five minutes before a raid. Anyone with even a brief knowledge of action movies know that one of them is not going to make it. 

And while the stance they take on the drug epidemic is admirable, their approach is sometimes on the nose, with every drug user shown to be a potential suicide because they can not control themselves. At one point Miu’s teary eyed daughter pleads with her father to capture all the drug dealers, with the dialogue coming across as unnatural.  

Still, director Herman Yau does improve on some elements from the first film with it having a much tighter pace than the somewhat bloated first movie. Where the first movie ran at well over 2 hours, Yau keeps things moving at a more manageable 100 minutes, lessening the chance of audience fatigue setting in.

This marks the third film of the year for Yau, with Room With A View (2019) and The New King Of Comedy (2019) being released earlier. Yau can be quite hit and miss with his filmography, but he can normally be relied on to deliver the goods.

During his varied career he has directed some of the most memorable films to come out of Hong Kong. Classics like The Untold Story (1993) and the Ebola Syndrome (1996) are just a couple of his best works. While The White Storm 2 never lives up to those classics, it is a major improvement on his last crime thriller, the enjoyable but ultimately disappointing The Leakers (2018).

While The White Storm 2 does not have the scale of the first movie, Yau still includes a number of blistering action scenes that are expertly carried out. Working with action choreographer Hon Ping, they stage a particularly effective dockside shootout with an air of confusion about it due to the amount of different factions involved. There is also some shorter action scenes peppered throughout to keep things exciting. These are mostly of the gunplay variety. 

The best action however is saved for last, with the film culminating in a lengthy car chase co-ordinated by the terrific Gobi Ng, which finds Lau and Koo facing off behind the wheel. It has some of the best car action to feature in a Hong Kong movie in some time, rivaling the work of his fellow stunt co-ordinators Bruce Law and Chin Kar-Lok. Surprisingly, other than this, most of the action does not feature the two lead actors.

In addition to the first rate action, Yau still manages to get decent performances from his cast. As mentioned, the characters are somewhat thinly written, but Andy Lau manages to inject enough dignity into his reformed criminal character to make it noteworthy. However, you could never consider him a hero as he has a one track mind when it comes to dealing with Zidang, reasoning that the ends justify the means. 

Lau has worked with director Herman Yau on numerous occasions, most recently on Shock Wave (2017), of which a sequel is already in development with Yau once again at the helm.

After his heroic turn in this year’s Chasing The Dragon 2 (2019), Louis Koo switches gears, playing one of his sleaziest characters to date. Koo has great fun as the villain of the piece, putting more into his part than is on the written page. His role is similar to his part in Johnnie To’s Drug War (2013), but much worse.

Like Lau, Koo has also worked with director Yau on multiple occasions, most famously on the Troublesome Night series. This year he also appeared in Room With A View and is also starring in Yau’s upcoming Death Notify

Michael Miu gets the lesser role of the three leads, but is his usual reliable self. A veteran of the Hong Kong film and television industry, Miu’s character is probably the closest the film has to a clear cut hero. His cop character does come across as somewhat ineffectual, but Miu throws himself into the role and actually gets involved in much more of the action than his two more famous co-stars. 

The remainder of the supporting cast also do well in small roles. Karena Lam makes the most of the material she is given and it is always good to see movie veteran Kent Cheng make an appearance, however short it may be. 

The White Storm 2: Drug Lords is not the smash hit that I was expecting, but still makes for a solid action thriller with enough shootouts and car chases to keep any action fan happy. I look forward to Lau and Yau’s next collaboration, which considering the speed they work won’t be long. 

Plot: 3/5
Acting: 3.5/5
Action: 3.5/5
Overall: 3.2/5

Written by Guest Reviewer: Darren Murray (Facebook Profile)

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