Director: Longman Leung, Sunny Luk
Writer: Longman Leung, Sunny Luk
Cast: Aaron Kwok, Tony Leung Ka Fai, Chow Yun-Fat, Charlie Young, Janice Man, Eddie Peng, Aarif Rahman, Tony Yang, Chang Kuo-chu, Wu Yue
Running Time: 110 min.
By Kyle Warner
The 2012 Hong Kong crime film Cold War created a lot of buzz before its release and, at least in the West, did not seem to maintain that buzz once it reached audiences. It’s a good looking film, headlined by some of Hong Kong’s finest actors, and being a crime movie full of betrayal, it’s exactly the sort of thing that Hong Kong usually does so well. Personally, I found it to be an overstuffed, poorly paced thriller that lacked character development but had enough plot for two movies. Still, I was not totally against the idea of the sequel promised at the end of the first film. And when superstar Chow Yun-Fat was added to the sequel’s cast, I was like yep, consider me interested.
In the original, a bombing was used as a distraction to steal a police van and abduct five police officers. With Michael Wong’s police commissioner out of the country, the task of bringing the criminals to justice fell to rival cops Sean Lau (Aaron Kwok) and M.B. Lee (Tony Leung Ka Fai). Lau and Lee battled each other almost as much as the criminals, while also dealing with suspicions about a mole in the police force.
Cold War 2 picks up not long after the original, with Sean Lau now the police commissioner, M.B. Lee recently retired from his post, and the police van still missing. When one of the surviving villains from the first film abducts Lau’s wife and demands the release of an incarcerated ally, Lau has a difficult choice of whether to put family before public safety. Ultimately, Lau decides to do all that he can to save his wife, but the operation ends with the bad guys getting away and structural damage to a public place. The sharks smell blood in the water when Lau is put on trial for misusing his office’s powers.
Unlike most cop dramas, the Cold War films focus primarily on the high-ranking men and women in suits as opposed to the officers on the streets. Most of the action takes place in sleek, ultra-modern interiors as well-dressed A-list actors shout at one another and plot political maneuvers to unseat their rivals from power. And when Lau’s position is made vulnerable, the elites in Hong Kong set about removing him from power and installing a man of their own: M.B. Lee.
In a cast that included Aaron Kwok, Andy Lau, Eddie Peng, and Charlie Yeung, it was Tony Leung Ka Fai (League of Gods) that stole the show in Cold War. M.B. Lee was the most interesting character in the first film, thanks to Leung’s performance, his interesting look, and a script that allowed the character to operate in a gray zone between hero and villain. Lee begins Cold War 2 as a more reasonable man, but when he sees the opportunity to throw Lau from his throne Lee becomes a less interesting, more undeniably villainous character.
Power plays and secret meetings between Lee and Hong Kong’s secret elite push Cold War 2 into less believable territory than its predecessor. But I won’t complain about that because overall I found it to be a more focused, more entertaining storyline than the first film. Lau wants to defend his position at the top, Lee wants to see Lau disgraced, and both have loyalists within the police force who want to see either side succeed. Then the courts get involved and the intense legislator Mr. Kan (Chow Yun-Fat) starts investigating both parties, complicating matters for everyone involved.
Because I thought that Leung’s M.B. Lee took a step back in the sequel and that Aaron Kwok’s Lau was never particularly interesting, Chow Yun-Fat’s Kan makes for a very welcome addition, here playing the character with the most depth and humanity. The cast, in general, ably plays their parts in a film where plot came well before character, but Kan is actually fleshed out. And though it might’ve been cool to see Chow involved the action sequences, he’s quite likable as the smart law man.
Chin Kar Lok serves as the film’s action director and Cold War 2’s three major sequences are all quite good. The shootout in the tunnel motorway is especially thrilling. Cold War 2 is not the non-stop thrill ride that Hong Kong action junkies may be looking for. But thanks to Chin Kar Lok and a willing cast, the action we do get is full of surprises and crazy close calls.
I liked Cold War 2 more than the original. Unlike the first film, the sequel isn’t trying to do everything at once. It’s not a perfect film, though, and I wish that the screenplay had been given another pass. Some characters could be deleted, others expanded on. And because many characters are introduced with a name and title graphic that’s competing with dialogue subtitles, I found myself pausing the movie a few times so that I could best keep track. (A personal beef of mine is when a film thinks offering a character name and job title is enough to make that character memorable to an audience.)
Overall though, it’s an enjoyable crime thriller with a slick look and a cool cast of Hong Kong favorites. A potential Cold War 3 is hinted at in the finale, and though I’m willing to offer a lukewarm recommendation for the second film to curious film buffs, I can’t help but hope that perhaps the third time’s the charm.
Kyle Warner’s Rating: 6.5/10