Storm Riders, The (1998) Review

"The Stormriders" Chinese Theatrical Poster

"The Stormriders" Chinese Theatrical Poster

AKA: The Stormriders
Director: Andrew Lau
Writer: Chau Ting, Manfred Wong
Producer: Manfred Wong
Cast: Ekin Cheng, Aaron Kwok, Sonny Chiba, Kristy Yeung, Michael Tse, Lawrence Cheng Tan Shui, Wayne Lai, Roy Cheung, Shu Qi, Jason Chu, Alex Fong, Anthony Wong, Elvis Tsui, Yu Rong Guang
Running Time: 128 min.

By Sergio Martorelli

Lord Conquer (Sonny Chiba) leads the greatest clan of medieval China, the creatively named Conquer Clan. He collects rare, funny-named swords like a kid amasses Pokémon cards, and only wants two things from life: a good marriage for his pritty daughter Charity (Kristy Yeung) and a duel to death with Sword Saint (Anthony Wong dressed as Gandalf). Ah, if only things were just as easy! The evasive Sword Saint keeps postponing the duel (he follows the “why can’t we be friends?” motto), and seer Mud Buddha (Yiu-Cheung, the inspector Tang from Gen-X Cops) foretells that, to secure his post as The Big Pumbaa of Da ‘Hood, Conquer must bring to his side the kids Wind (Ekin Chen) and Cloud (Aaron Kwok). That’s what he does, by ordering the killing of the boys’ fathers and raisin’ em as his own offspring. Of course Conquer omits the murder bit, so Wind and Cloud are loyal to him. But as usual when you have some skeletons in the closet, someday the bones will rattle for everybody to hear.

Cut to ten years later. The now grown-up lads gained powers beyond those of mere mortal men. Wind commands the wind (not THAT wind, but the kind that inflates sails!), Cloud controls water (something as useful as Zan’s powers from the Super Friends cartoon, judging by a later sequence), and a third boy, Frost (Michael Tse), freezes his enemies with punches. Cool! But naughty Mud Buddha conveniently lets out the second part of the prophecy – you know, the BAD part – and hauls ass before Conquer finds out he was duped. Prophecy says that when Wind and Cloud unite for the same goal (so far, they’ve spent all the movie bickering), Conquer’s ass will be grass. Obviously bad news, but powermad Conquer thinks he can control his own destiny. Poor sap.

Since both boys have the hots for Charity, Lordy arranges her marriage with one of ’em. And just like in any chapter of “Days of Our Lifes”, that’s not a good move – but Conquer is counting on that. BTW, for a girl named “Charity”, Conquers’ daughter is very giving indeed. She likes both stepbrothers, but we know who we’re rooting for. Wind, the romantic one, takes Charity on “Superman: The Movie”-like fancy flights, poetry readings, firefly-watching and other sissy stuff. Cloud, the tempestous one, just storms Charity’s bedroom and fucks her silly. Atta boy! So far, we’re barely over the first hour. There’s plenty more to come, including self-mutilation, grave robbery and a cool fire monster, but I don’t wanna spoil the surprises.

Let’s talk about the cast instead. Kwok and Cheng are China’s answer to Justin Timberlake, and they do a fairly decent job as leading lords (well, Cheng does; Kowk isn’t that talented, but he tries). Sonny Chiba, as expected, puts the movie in the breast pocket and runs with it; his performance is operistic and kabuki-like, a perfect choice for a comic book villain. The guy was 59, but look at his muscles when he rips off his shirt; rrowwrrr! Yu Rong Guang shines on his cameo as Cloud’s dad, omnipresent Anthony Wong has a (very) small but striking part, and soft-porn starlet Shu Qi repeats the same schlap-schtick from Jackie Chan’s lamest film, “Gorgeous”. Granted, she’s cute, but her character is more annoying than Scrappy-Doo. A Valley Girl in medieval China? Sorry, me no buy it. About the flick: eat your heart out, Goku! Run and hide, Vegita! Super Sayan, schmuper shmayan! Wind, Cloud, Frost and Conquer are the real deal! Thanks to lots of computer wizardry, our heroes fly around, move faster than a Keystone Cop, shine from inside with pretty colours and exchange body parts at will. All this insanity came from the minds of director Andrew Lau (Wai Keung Lau, NOT Andy Lau Tak-wah) and Ma Wing Ping, creator of the comic book used as basis for the screenplay (some critics label the comic as Manga, but aren’t Manga supposed to be japanese?).

All the sound of fury made this the Hong Kong blockbuster of 1998, and deservedly so. The Storm Riders may have an uneven story, but is pretty exciting when watched with the right frame of mind – meaning “check your brain at the door”. The reviewed DVD is the Brazilian edition by China Video, with the same transfer and extras from Tai Seng’s version. There are portuguese subtitles on the making of (Tai Seng’s has none), so if you have a friend who speaks spanish, that can help cuz both languages have similarities. Also included are non-subtitled trailers for Running Out of Time (dubbed in english), A Man Called Hero, The Storm Raiders (dubbed in portuguese), The Duel, Double Tap, Once Upon a Time in China and America (dubbed in english), High Risk (dubbed in english and full frame – eeep!!!) and Full Contact.

Sergio Martorelli’s Rating: 7/10

By James H.

Andrew Lau’s “The Stormriders” begins promisingly enough with an impressive title sequence, showcasing digital animation and some good music. From there, the film goes down hill. It features a remarkable cliched and convoluted plot, and it was very easy to tell where the producers put the money. Summarizing the plot would be a waste of my time, and yours.

Like many of today’s Hollywood summer films, the real focus of “The Stormriders” is the special effects. The effects in the film, while being undeniably good, do not look overly convincing, proving Roger Ebert’s “Toupee Effect” rule.

Lau’s directing has the combined style and grace of a “Mortal Kombat” game and a Madonna video. It even looks like it was shot on video, and not film. Perhaps this overabundance of style is to compensate for the giant lack of substance. I’m not condemning films that showcase style over substance, they can be and are good when done right, like Sam Raimi’s “The Evil Dead” and John Woo’s “A Better Tomorrow II”.

The film also has a very choppy editing style to it. Not like the oddly smooth flowing editing of Steven Soderbergh’s films (like “The Limey” and “Traffic”), but the sloppy and abrupt editing of Michael Bay’s “Armageddon”. It ended up giving the movie an episodic feel to it, like a series of television shows edited together to make a movie.

There were several fight scenes in the film, all involving characters with the kind of powers found in a (gasp!) “Mortal Kombat” video game. In fact, one character, named Frost, has abilities, which are strikingly similar to those of (gasp!) Sub Zero of the (gasp!) “Mortal Kombat” franchise. But, I digress. There is nothing really wrong with the fights, but the came across in a rather unexciting fashion; lacking a certain “kick”, so to speak.

Unfortunately (or fortunately, who knows?), the version I saw was what appears to be a heavily cut American version, which ran a grand total of 88 minutes. Perhaps the dubbing also lent a hand to my distaste for the film. No matter, I do not think making this picture any longer would have made it any better.

James H’s Rating: 3/10

By Dave Bell

No goofy joke, no silly references to sitcoms or politicians. This movie deserves better. An amazing film of epic quality, that weaves lush cinemtography with some of the most breathtaking – and seamless – special effects put on film. The story moves at steady pace without bogging down, at no point will the viewer wonder how long have they been watching and when is the end coming. The characters stay true to themselves and not a single performance rings sour. Kwok, Cheng and Chiba are marvelous but most underrated may be the actor playing Frost. He brings a quiet dignity to the role and when he admits his unrequited love for Chastity it rings painfully true. If you’ve only seen this movie on video, buy a DVD player to see it again. If you’ve seen it on DVD, beg your theater owner to show a 70 mm print. This is the best movie since Scorcese’s Goodfellas.

Dave Bell’s Rating: 10/10

By Vic Nguyen

Based on a best selling comic, this big budget, special effects laden production features a cast of all stars and was helmed by premiere filmmaker Andrew Lau Wai-keung. Pop singers Aaron Kwok and Ekin Cheng star as the title characters Wind and Cloud, brought together to bring down the evil Lord Conqueror, played by Japanese cinema legend Sonny Chiba. Despite the presence of big name actors and actresses, the real star of this film are the special effects by Centro, which set new standards for the future of Hong Kong Cinema. That, along with a keen visual flair by former cinematographer Andrew Lau Wai-keung, makes the Storm Riders a worthwhile film worth tracking down. Released in 1998, The Storm Riders was king at the box office, edging out headline productions such as Jackie Chan’s Who Am I? and Chow Yun-fat’s US debut The Replacement Killers.

Vic Nguyen’s Rating: 7/10

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