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Original Title:
Fung wan II

Hong Kong 2009

Fantasy, Action

Oxide Pang
Danny Pang

Aaron Kwok
Ekin Cheng
Simon Yam
Nicholas Tse
Kenny Ho
Charlene Choi
Tifanny Tang Yan
Lam Suet
Patrick Tam
Anson Leung
Byron Pang
Kenny Wong Tak-Bun

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The Storm Warriors

aka The Storm Riders 2

Story: Cloud (Aaron Kwok) and the martial arts master Nameless (Kenny Ho) have been captured along with other experts of martial arts by Lord Godless (Simon Yam) in order to officially declare his sole rulership in the country. However, Cloud and Nameless manage, also thanks to the suddenly appearing Wind (Ekin Cheng), to escape so that they can regroup and come up with a strategy against Lord Godless. Since Nameless can't face Lord Godless one on one anymore, because of a poisening, he sends Cloud and Wind to Lord Wicked who is supposed to help them. But as things turn out Lord Wicked can't fight anymore either and decides to take in Wind as his disciple. For Wind to experience a really significant gain in power he has to succumb to evil and it remains questionable if he will ever be able to repel it from his soul later.
At the same time Cloud learns some new martial arts techniques from master Nameless. He and his friend Wind have to hurry, though, if they want to prevent Lord Godless from fully getting China into his grip as he is now seeking to finally solidify his power by getting his hands on a mighty artifact that is hidden at the Dragon Tomb, a sacred place of China.

Review: It surely took some time until "The Storm Riders" finally got its sequel. The first installment wasn't that breathtaking to begin with, but the potential that the comic held for the big screen was already quite obvious. However, the special effects weren't polished enough at that time for the filmmakers to really make the viewer gaze at the screen in awe. Furthermore, the story was overloaden with too many characters and put together in an incoherent fashion. "The Storm Warriors", on the other hand, at least manages to fully satisfy when it comes to the visuals. Still, the rest of the movie even has to be called a step backwards. The film is extremely thin when it comes to the plot, the characters are incredibly shallow and the movie itself is in a strange way lifeless, which in fact might be connected with it taking place on only a handful of locations that are also solely computer-animated. That's not the kind of sequel we hoped for. The visual creativity cannot make up for the absent emotions and an almost non-existent story. Thus, "The Storm Warriors" remains a feast for the eyes that lacks the right heart.

Fans will still be happy to see Ekin Cheng and Aaron Kwok reunited on screen and back in their old roles - after 11 years, mind you! While Kwok could achieve quite some success that cannot be ignored, it has gotten a bit quieter around Cheng. In the movie you also see the additional decade he has to carry around with him more clearly than that of his acting buddy. But there is one thing fans surely will be happy about. Eking Cheng becomes more space in the sequel than he had in the first installment, which was actually solely occupied by Kwok's presence. Kwok might be easier accessable for the viewer, but this time Cheng's character is more interesting. This is because he is allowed to act out his inner conflict with the evil inside him. His wooden face gesture even helps him to master his role in a subtle way, even if this might sound a bit odd. Since Cloud is too impetuous to keep the evil inside him under control, Wind is chosen to carry that burden. Since "Star Wars", at the latest, we know that a significant gain in power can only be achieved in a short amount of time if you turn to the dark side, and our two protagonists are running out of time.

This brings us to several problems, though. Cloud and Wind don't seem to have anyting in common with their characters of the first movie. It's not really that they would be depicted good enough to actually legitimate pronouncing this judgment, but this first impression proves to be right throughout the film. There seems to be amiss a lot when it comes to their character development, anyway. Cloud and Wind seem to be good friends now and have gone through a lot together. It's just that this fact isn't brought to screen in a satisfying manner. Therefore, we also can't build up an emotional bond to them. How bad this movie fails in this respect is even more apparent when you consider that the story arc that was used from the comic is one that actually lives and breathes emotionality. That's also why Second Dream, played by Charlene Choi, and Chu Chu, embodied by Tiffany Tang Yan, are thrown into the movie. However, their fate doesn't interest or move us in the least, their love stories with our heroes, that are hinted at, remain non-existent and thus they remain as one-dimensional as the rest of the movie's characters. Especially Simon Yam sticks out when it comes to how badly the film underchallenges good actors.

It's also enormously irritating that the film plays in only a few places that are moreover isolated from the normal world and this despite the film's big plot - it's about conquering China after all. We don't get to see any village or a normal citizen, instead we find ourselves on mountains, in temples and caves which are all produced thanks to a greenscreen, as you can also see in the impressive list at the credit screen. Along with the brown-greyish colors of the picture this creates dismal, serious and lonely looking surroundings that just don't want to fit to the original comic.
Let's get to some positive aspects, though. The brothers Oxide and Danny Pang ("Re-cycle", "The Eye") have an impressive sense for visuals. This becomes apparent in numerous slow-motion scenes, that obviously have been shot with high-speed cameras, and in some frozen pictures that have been put together like a collage which gives them a nice comic touch. Together with the used colors those scenes might often look as if being pulled out of "300", but the Pang Brothers also incorporate their own ideas, especially some of the great special attacks deserve mentioning, which make the movie a visual feast. For the execution of their ideas they are supported by their Thailand team once again, of course.

It can't be pointed out often enough how much the film scores on a visual level, but this makes the story and the characters look even the more dull. At least this time some "real" fights found their way into the movie, so that there isn't just wire-fu and a storm of effects to be found in the fights. Although this has to be verified in the respect that the Pang Brothers are focused too much on capturing some cool scenes in the half-hour lasting showdown, so that they look a bit too forced. Along with the somewhat generic, but loud score "The Storm Warriors" makes for undoubtfully effect-loaden popcorn cinema that lacks substance. For fans of the comic and all those that like fantasy and great special effects the film can be recommended, but a good movie looks different. At least the more or less open ending leaves room for another sequel and in fact this would be a nice thing - but next time more substance, please.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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