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Original Title:
Fung wan: Hung ba tin ha

Hong Kong 1998

Fantasy, Action

Andrew Lau

Aaron Kwok
Ekin Cheng
Sonny Chiba
Kristy Yang
Michael Tse
Shu Qi
Alex Fong
Yu Rongguang
Lawrence Cheng
Roy Cheung
Lai Yiu-Cheung
Jason Chu
Dion Lam

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The Storm Riders

Story: Lord Conquer (Sonny Chiba) is the leader of the Conqueror clan and the number 1 in the martial arts world. However, his absolute dominance can only stand as unquestioned if he beats Sword Saint. But Sword Saint has to postpone their fight for about ten years. The prophet Mud Buddha (Lai Yiu-Cheung) tells Lord Conquer that his power within his country will spread even further if he finds two children, Wind and Cloud, and teaches them martial arts. Lord Conquer would be unbeatable with their help. Only then years later he would get to know more about his fate. Lord Conquer can track down the two children, simply kills their parents and takes them in.
Ten years later Lord Conquer wants to know about the second part of his fate and so he sends for Mud Buddha. Meanwhile, Wind (Ekin Cheng) and Cloud (Aaron Kwok) have grown up and have both fallen in love with the daughter of the lord, Charity (Kristy Yang). While Wind has a good heart Cloud is pretty impetuous, but soon the two will have to lay their differences aside and fight against Lord Conquer as a unit since the ruler found out that according to the prophecy the two are supposed to bring his downfall and so he is determined to get rid of them.

Review: "The Storm Riders" is a movie that splits the audience, yet has become somewhat of a classic already. One reason is that the movie has been promoted relatively strongly abroad, too. Therefore, this movie is actually one of those that introduced me to Asian cinema in the first place. Still, even back then the bumpy nature of the film and other apparent flaws couldn't elude my eye. "The Storm Riders" is a mixed bag of a fantasy film with some great ideas, some at that time groundbreaking special effects for Hong Kong standards and a lot of popular faces in the main and supporting roles. But the bewildering script, the breakneck pacing, that leaves you no time to get upset about the plot inconsistencies and Ekin Cheng being miscast as Wind make this fantasy spectacle simple perfunctory entertainment which positive and negative aspects almost are in the balance. At least the movie delivers entertainment and this in more than just small doses.

Loud, colorful and effectloaden are the attributes that fit best to Andrew Lau's fantasy epic. As years went by Lau could improve a lot as his "Infernal Affairs" trilogy is the best proof and so he has to deal with quite some criticism by me concerning his early works. First of all, his movie is almost entirely carried by its pictures and special effects. While at the beginning we are presented with a few movie pieces that remind us of Wong Kar-Wai's "Ashes of Time" and thus almost look like art the movie drowns in its effects later on. Even though the implemented effects may be a quantum leap concerning Hong Kong cinema, they already looked like a bad joke when compared to Hollywood competition back then. The obvious bluescreens aren't really the problem, actually, but the computer effects, as for example the animated fire dragon. Only some of the special attacks of some of the characters can surprise qualitywise, especially when they are kept in anime style.

However, the special effect accentuation shouldn't surprise since the movie is based on a comic by Ma Wing-Shing after all. Sadly, the special effects don't carry the story, but latter one is simply replaced by it. It also would have been nice to see some "real" fights on some occasions instead of the frantically edited hectical jumping around giving us unnecessary headache. Still, Wind's tornado attacks and Cloud's ability to use liquids as weapons are nice ideas that give you a taste of what the movie could have been: a nice actionloaden live-action adaptation of a manga. The story and the characters that are worked with here could have had room in a 10-hours movie, though. Since Andrew Lau tried come hell or high water to put all of them into one movie it shouldn't surprise that there is only nonsense he gets out of it in the end. Nothing fits together and at times we also get the feeling that whole dialogues of explanation are missing. Maybe the film only gets comprehensible if you have read the comic?

The movie surely doesn't lack any big names. Apart from the two Canto-Popstars Ekin Cheng and Aaron Kwok there is also Sonny Chiba, who embodies the villian always hungry for power. As with all characters he also runs the risk of going down in a overdrawn portrayal, but Chiba's charisma and screen presence make him get out the maximum of his role. Aaron Kwok has quite some physical presence in the movie, too, so that we can sympathize with him as well and this even though he orders the killing of a child (!). Ekin Cheng on the other hand is so one-dimensional that - maybe apart from the role he plays in the grande finale - no one would have cared if there would have only been Cloud in the movie's original title.
In some smaller roles there are Roy Cheung as a shaolin monk, Alex Fong as Whispering Prince, Michael Tse as Frost and Shu Qi as well as Anthony Wong as Sword Saint in small cameo appearance. Kristy Yang can carry a nice love triangle which once more shows that women as well as men can't always focus their love on only one individual and can't just be called by the "bi..."-word because of that. You don't call men with that name either, do you?

What is left after the storm of special effects has settled and the loud, apealing soundtrack has faded away? "Disillusionment" is the answer, unfortunately. "The Storm Riders" is full of creativity but what is the use of that when it isn't steered in the right direction? The story is unclear, the characters have no room to unfold, there are too many interesting side characters that unavoidably get neglected and at the end everything feels very densely packed. If "The Storm Riders" would have been a two-part movie some of the most obvious problems could have been avoided and at the same time the producers could have cashed in on it twice, just like Hollywood. But Hong Kong is actually learning from its mistakes and after more than ten years worked on a sequel. Still, this doesn't help "The Storm Riders" in the least. Nice ideas packed into a overloaden fantasy frame, that could have given the opportunity to do so much more. Yet, even the way it is you can't deny the film's entertainment value.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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