Sunday, February 9, 2014
Thoughts On Benny Chan's The White Storm
I was going to post a review of Benny Chan's heroic bloodshed throwback The White Storm, however I've since read Kozo's LoveHKfilm piece on the film here. Ross' ever perceptive review covers everything I was going to write (and more). So instead, I'm going to give my thoughts on certain aspects of the film, without the need to go into the plot etc.
I wanted to love The White Storm, I really did. After all, who among Hong Kong cinema fans hasn't dreamt of a resurrection of the heroic bloodshed film? Cause I sure as hell have. Take a director with a track record in solid action (particularly The Big Bullet), arguably Hong Kong's best actor Lau Ching Wan, sorry Sean Lau as it is again now, and two of it's most improved in Nick Cheung and Louis Koo. Mix together and you should have a recipe for a great time.
Unfortunately, what you get from this particular mix is a long time rather than a great time. Yes this Hong Kong action movie has a distinct case of Koreanitus, clocking in at around 140 minutes and I'm afraid the prognosis is not good. Frankly it's a ridiculous running time for the story on offer. It isn't that The White Storm is a terrible film, or even a bad one in fact as far as recent HK action fare goes it's fine. The problem is it could and should have been so much better.
The film's major flaw is the writing, with a total of five writers credited including director Chan, it's no surprise the film is so muddled. Overwrought pretty much throughout, the script saddles it's stars with long unnecessary monologues, the kind that spell everything out and stop the film dead in it's tracks. That the actors emerge from the film with any credit from their performances, is testament to their skill and charisma alone, as they are done no favours whatsoever by the material they're given to work with.
Leading on from the muddled screenplay, Chan seems unsure of exactly what kind of film he's making. While taking huge chunks from the John Woo handbook, the direction (and script) are unwilling to commit to a full on irony free bloody bromance. So you get many of the the genre motifs, but none of the heart and sincerity that made the genre so compelling back in it's heyday. This lack of commitment leaves the film in a kind of limbo, somewhere between the heartfelt Woo style and the irony filled Johnnie To style, and dramatically at least it just doesn't work. This confused style is also present in the (still very good) action sequences, particularly the ending. Where the film needed to go fully Woo, it doesn't and instead feels like a mix of a Woo and To style shootout, even to the extent that the blood from the bullet hits is a mix of Woo style bloody squibs and To style puffs of powder like blood. I hate to be so pedantic but the mixture looks odd, and further distanced me from feeling anything from the drama.
In his review, Kozo states Nick Cheung steals the show, this is where I take a different path, as for me Lo Hoi Pang's outrageous hair, runs away with the entire movie, almost literally. It simply steals every scene it appears in.
All in all The White Storm is a missed opportunity. A movie worth watching yes, especially if you're a fan of the genre, but given the talent involved it has to go down as disappointing. Ultimately the long running time and the lack of heart relegate the film to a what could have been status. All the same I hope The White Storm does well enough to prompt a resurgence of all that is heroic and bloodsheddy in Hong Kong cinema, I for one feel it's time.