HKAFF: The White Storm 掃毒 (2013) – Hong Kong [World Premiere]

Review by: Andrew Chan FCCA AACTA FIPRESCI
Review Date: 28th October 2013

Directed by: Benny Chan
Produced by: Benny Chan
Starring: Louis Koo, Lau Ching Wan, Nick Cheung, Lo Hoi Pang

In cinemas Hong Kong from 5th December 2013

Reviewed at the World Premiere at 10th Hong Kong Asian Film Festival 2013

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After the disappointing and over hyped action / thriller blockbuster, “Cold War”, the makers behind “The White Storm” decided to make a lesser publicity storm, instead letting the quality of the film to tell a thousand words. Director Benny Chan managed to pull of the impossible, while Nick Cheung continues to show why he is one of the best versatile actors in Hong Kong, along with the ever dependable Lau Ching Wan and the ever improving Louis Koo. The film can easily be over hyped; instead, Chan manages to deliver on nearly all levels and even exceeding expectations. The result is a hugely entertaining, highly commercial, extremely saleable, thoroughly plotted and hugely satisfying movie event of the year. Let’s make a bold statement, if “Cold War” won Best Film last year, then expect “The White Storm” to storm the awards. At the end of the day, a good film is all we ask for and The White Storm provides everyone in Hong Kong for something to cheer about.

Lau Ching Wan amply carries the film with perhaps the most interesting character of the lot. In the scene on the cliff when Lau has to make a choice between his two lifelong brothers, the look and stress on his face shows a man who clearly knows what he is doing. A lesser actor, would easily and simply look away from the camera or overact, but Lau does neither and his stare at the camera and the audience almost made the audience feel as though they are the one making the decision. The film itself poses the question of making a choice between life and death and especially on your most loved ones. It is a difficult question and one that director Benny Chan pulled off without being cheesy. In fact, the film may contain numerous plot holes, but Chan smartly covers them up and whether you like the numerous twists and turns or not, the film remains an edge of the seat affair and most importantly everything works. It is by no means a small feat as there are some moments in my head I was wondering how on earth Benny Chan is going to pull it off, and when he did it in spectacular style, it is all the more sweet.

In my honest opinion, I feel that the star of the show belongs to Nick Cheung. After his career defining performance in Unbeatable, Cheung simply steals every scene he is involved in during the final chapter of the film. His charming smile and sharp turn in character makes him a perfect candidate for chewing the scenery to perfection. His movements and acting is simply showing a man who is in the prime of his career and that level of confidence cannot be undermined. Cheung starts off being level minded, the simple guy with one ambition of becoming a good cop and essentially the mediator of the trio of brother-ship. Cheung does exactly that, but as the film goes on, it shows one very important thing about life. How living in a country like Thailand and combining a near death experience can change you, your values and eventually your outlook on life. I was in Bangkok, just last week, walking through the streets of Patpong showed me how cheap life was and it is easy to understand how it can change people, their values and the principles that they used to hold. In fact, Nick Cheung of the past may not be able to pull of such a change of character, but here he did it to perfection.

Perhaps the weakest link of the film comes to the ever improving Louis Koo. Koo lacks character and conviction and despite having the role of undercover, he is unable to express his emotions and internal turmoil as effectively as he should have done. It is disappointing as this can easily be the role that Koo can finally shines, instead he is constantly overshadowed by far more natural Lau Ching Wan and the scene stealing Nick Cheung. His scenes with his wife could have been more expressive or even more emotional, but instead everything seems regulated to the background. While Lo Hoi Pang as Thai War and Drug lord, spots a ridiculous hairdo, which at times over shadowed his acting and menacing appearance. Still, few can appears in so few sequences and remains largely effective. Lo Hoi Pang with a Rambo like machine gun is worthy of the price of admission.

All in all, “The White Storm” is easily the most entertaining film of the year, an edge of the seat thriller, smash buckling action affair and a powerhouse of acting experience. Hong Kong movies usually suffers the predicament of not finishing off a promising premises, leaving plot holes uncovered and predictable ending due to Mainland censorship. This is where director Benny Chan succeeds, well others before him have failed. He managed to conquer the above flaws of Hong Kong cinema and in turn created something that is just short of a masterpiece. Few films have the same amount of tension that this film is able to generate, the intensity is always there and every expectation that Chan manages build he succeeds in dealing with the resolution. Hong Kong cinemas need films like these and after several decades of directing, Benny Chan finally got it right, balancing commercial expectations with a good storyline and passing the rigors of censorship. A topic about drugs is nothing new as Johnnie To explored earlier in “Drug War”, but of the two, Chan wins the battle and for that Hong Kong cinema fans should be grateful. Let’s just say Hong Kong cinema is the biggest winner. (Neo 2013)

I rated it 9/10

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