If you’re thinking whether you should pay good money to watch The Storm Warriors (Fung Wan II, 风云II) at the cinemas, the quick answer is “Don’t bother, the movie is a massive disappointment.”
Even if you’re the biggest Fung Wan fan on earth? Well, if you don’t mind forking out money to make yourself feel annoyed, please go ahead.
Here’s the long reason why:
My love for the comic series started in 1991 when I was walking home from school and a beautifully-drawn comic book cover caught my eye at a bookstand.
This is what it looked like:
It was issue 105 of Tin Ha (Tian Xia, 天下), and I was stunned by the quality of the collage. I’ve always been a fan of artists who pay attention to detailing and a closer look at the artwork that made up the character’s face made my jaw drop. Every piece of the image was pure artistic talent.
By the way, the character on the cover was Nameless (Wu Ming, 无名), one of the most powerful characters in the Tin Ha universe and obviously an archetype from the original The Chinese Hero (中华英雄) series which was hugely popular in the early 1980s.
The main storyline then was how two fellow martial arts warriors Cloud (云)and Wind (风) fought each other to the bitter end, this being the result of Wind going over to the dark side by practicing evil skills (魔道) and succumbing totally.
The following are the awesome covers that covered the conclusion of that particular story arc. (Few youngsters today have seen the quality of the early Tin Ha artwork and dismiss Chinese comics as being pulp fiction):
That’s how I got hooked on Tin Ha for the next four or five years until the storyline got really out of hand (key characters became so powerful and even immortal, it didn’t really matter who they were fighting anymore). I also purchased graphic compilations of the first 50 novels which covered their battle against Xiong Ba, their master and their destroyer. I re-read those books many times until I gave them away years ago.
When the Storm Riders movie came onto celluloid screens in the late 1990s, it was not perfect, but it was a work of love and retained the spirit of the Tin Ha comic books. In fact, it managed to squeeze a lot of Tin Ha canon into under two hours and covered the rise of Wind and Cloud till the end of Xiong Ba.
Also you couldn’t really go wrong with a cast of Anthony Wong, Ekin Cheng and Aaron Kwok. Plus sexpot Hsu Chi of course, even if she was the most irritating cast member with her whiny voice. The movie had some of the best CGI found in Chinese cinema in its day (which is primitive by today’s standard of course), and helped drive a short resurgence of wuxia movies until the Hong Kong film industry went into deep doldrums this century.
Then things went pretty much downhill with the Fung Wan television series:
To cut the long story short, the TV series featured cheap wigs, cheap props and two of the last people who should ever act as Wind and Cloud. Scrawny Peter Ho was supposed to be the beefy Cloud, and nostril-flaring Zhao Wen Zhuo looked horrendous in his long wig as Wind. In Season 2 (amazing that it even lasted that long), Zhao gave up on the wig and went with a crew-cut. I couldn’t decide if that was an absolute sacrilege to the source material or eye-relief for millions of TV viewers in Asia.
So for many years, Fung Wan fans waited patiently for the next movie sequel, hoping for the sins of the TV series to be redeemed with modern filmmaking techniques. I should have suspected that something was wrong when I heard about The Storm Warriors early in 2009, saw screenshots, but it was announced that the movie would only be released at the end of the year. In the Asian film industry, films are usually rushed out as soon as possible.
Now having watched The Storm Warriors on the big screen, here is the lowdown.
- Aaron Kwok finally gets a proper wavy hair-do instead of the scary electric-blue curls in the last movie.
- Wind’s costume is pretty authentic looking. Both he and Aaron have hardly aged since the last movie.
- Simon Yam is a great Lord Godless – he’s old enough to carry off the role and has the right amount of villainy to be Japan’s most powerful warrior. His face also looks strangely unlined – it could be the massive samples of free SKII that his wife QiQi gets as an official SKII model.
The scriptwriting is amateurish at best, and confused at worst.
The movie starts off nicely with a showdown between Godless and Nameless, but doesn’t know what to do after that.
Firstly, the movie imagines China as a small province, since heroes and villains seem to travel to each new location within minutes. Perhaps they have a new subway system?
Despite the rich tapestry of the Tin Ha universe, there are only five major characters and about four locales featured in the entire 110min movie. Someone is always telling someone else: “This XXX is being attacked at YYY location! Go there now!” and everyone rushes off to the next location.
Lead characters spend a lot of time explaining what and why they’re learning specific martial arts skills, but there is zero explanation on more critical plot points.
For example, why is the dragon bone – that Godless seeks – the key to China’s survival? What happens if it leaves the Dragon Tomb? How did Wind survive a premature end to his training as an evil dude? How was it that Nameless, the most powerful guy in the Chinese wuxia scene, allowed himself to get poisoned by Godless?
Of course, if you’re a big Fung Wan fan, you can surmise the answers. But as someone who was trying to enjoy the movie as mindless entertainment, the movie had – as the Chinese would say it – no head nor tail.
Now for the first 20 min, it seemed like the movie was attempting to flesh out a storyline. Then it gave up and went into:
Endless, meaningless computer generated nonsense
Really, the whole movie is like some animator’s wet dream.
String together five or six fight sequences overlaid with massive CGI and people will love it! Never mind about interesting dialogue, subplots or hey, even a basic storyline!
Sorry guys, all I saw was a lot of virtual black smoke, poor imitiations of Zack Synder’s 300 fight scenes (think high contrast images that constantly speed up and slow down to emphasize someone getting whacked stylistically), and WAY TOO MUCH posturing between all the male leads.
Seriously, every five minutes, either Simon Yam, Nicholas Tse, Aaron or Ekin would be glaring at someone else and looking pretty constipated before attempting to throw a kick or punch. It could be possible that it’s now easier to recreate constipated looks on the computer rather than to ask actors to strike that pose.
After the first hour, I was just waiting for the movie to end because I couldn’t take anymore love-hate looks between Wind and Cloud, or the massive clouds of hot air (perhaps fart) that they kept generating and blowing at each other. There’s even a post-modern fight scene that fails utterly to impress in its self-righteous metaphorical approach.
Two seriously annoying female leads
My wife was saying Charlene Choi looks better these days after her Twins partner blew up her own career with the Edison Chen sex scandal. It doesn’t make Charlene a better actress though. As 2nd Dream, she spends the entire movie trying to look like a damsel in distress when she actually looks like she forgot her script.
The other actress Tang Yan replaced Hsu Chi in the role of Chu Chu. Oh man, she says the most annoying and obvious lines (“Why are you all injured?” she says, when it’s clear that everyone’s been beaten up by Wind) and I promise you’ll be happy when she gets her just deserts.
Overall, The Storm Warriors is just a poor excuse in movie making and is an embarrassment to the rich source material.
The directors (Pang Bros) have let the generous CGI budget go to their heads and forgotten that Fung Wan was always driven by a strong storyline. That each pugilist happened to be ridiculously powerful did not overcome the fact that they often kept their powers in check, or because they had serious personality flaws which they struggled with. The movie showcased so much CGI firepower it soon became boring to watch these guys unleash atomic-powered punches at each other. Less is more!!!
Also, in this movie, Wind and Cloud have somewhat less character than a Ken Doll, and seem more like colleagues rather than fighters who grew up feeling angsty about each other, only to reconcile for humanity’s sake. There was no effort to set the stage for these two characters, or even explain the motivations of any lead character.
The ending of the movie is rather faithful to the comic, BUT they didn’t even bother to do a post-credits scene to set up the next story arc.
If the movie was an excuse for selling figurines and toys like GI Joe or Transformers, I would have been more forgiving. But the merchandising is non-existent at normal retail. For the budget that these guys had, they really let the money flow away into a pool of mediocrity and wasted everyone’s time at the cinema.
Movie rating: 3/10. An exercise in computer graphics and post-production work, and little else. It could have reignited the wuxia movie genre, but basically reminded us that some franchises are best left alone to our fond memories.
PS: I thought the best bit about the movie was getting Kenny Ho, who acted as Hua Ying Xiong (The Chinese Hero/Bloodsword) on TV, to act as Nameless. Both Ying Xiong and Nameless share similar looks, character and wuxia reputation.
Kenny Ho as Nameless (无名)