Director: David Lam
Writer: Ho Wa Wong, David Lam
Cast: Louis Koo, Gordon Lam, Lo Hoi Pang, Liu Kai Chi, Michael Wong Man Tak, Dada Chan Ching, Janelle Sing Kwan, Patrick Keung, Felix Lok Ying Kwan
Running Time: 92 min.
By Kyle Warner
Slowly Hong Kong cinema seems to be making a comeback. Our favorite directors and stars keep giving us reasons to hope so, anyway. 2014’s Z Storm has the gloss and star power to inspire more confidence in this recent upswing, but sadly it’s a disappointing thriller, one that’s best enjoyed by surveying its good-looking promotional materials instead of actually sitting down to watch the thing.
David Lam came out of retirement to direct Z Storm (his last directorial effort was 1999’s Street Angels). I’m no fan of David Lam’s but I tend to root for an artist who makes their return to their chosen craft after a long absence. Fellow Hong Kong director Ringo Lam just made his long-awaited return to the director’s chair for his new film Wild City and the general consensus is that he hasn’t lost a step in his time away from filmmaking. Unfortunately the same cannot be said for David Lam, who squanders impressive production values and a talented cast with dull direction, sloppy cinematography, and a story that fails to excite (the director also has a story credit for Z Storm). To put it simply, David Lam still seems a bit rusty.
Louis Koo (SPL II) plays the lead investigator of an ICAC unit (that’s the Independent Commission Against Corruption) that’s looking into the attractive Z Hedge Fund that’s primed to go public in a week’s time. The Z Hedge Fund is feared to be a Bernie Madoff type of financial scheme. Standing in the investigation’s way is a crooked cop (Gordon Lam) and a slimy lawyer (Michael Wong) who are helping the Z Hedge Fund along and blackmailing everyone that can’t be bought. As Koo’s team gets closer, witnesses start getting bumped off, and powerful people do whatever they can to turn things around and make the ICAC look like the bad guys.
That actually sounds like a film I’d normally enjoy but David Lam and screenwriter Ho-Wa Wong (Lawyer Lawyer) never find a way to make their story even remotely compelling. Their take on white-collar crime is often either boring or vague. The film has a ticking clock scenario where we see how many days are left before the ICAC agents must crack the case, always accompanied by bombastic music and sped-up time-lapse photography, and it seems to suggest that the filmmakers think this is all terribly exciting. But it’s not. Sometimes it’s not even entirely clear what the stakes are in the first place.
Things would be better if there was a character to root for but the ICAC agents are incorruptible and pure, which makes them all boring and unbelievable. Louis Koo’s become a very capable actor and is one of the more reliable leading men in Asian cinema, but he does nothing with the character and ends up being little more than a name on a poster to help sell the movie.
You have to wait until the final twenty minutes of the movie before you get your first action sequence. The biggest set piece is a car chase, which looks decent but falls flat because, by this point, who cares? In this car chase, our hero Louis Koo spends the entire sequence buckled up safely in the backseat of a car, only occasionally shifting from side to side as the car swerves. It’s almost like they purposefully never gave Louis Koo anything interesting to say or do.
Bad guys Gordon Lam and Michael Wong have a bit more fun. When they’re on screen the film becomes more entertaining, though it’s not always intentional. Gordon Lam’s cop is so crooked and obvious that one wonders how it took people this long to catch on to his lying ass. The actor has some fun in the part and an interrogation sequence where he has all the right answers is probably the film’s dramatic highlight. Michael Wong does his usual thing where he jumps between Cantonese to English like two radio stations cutting into your signal competing for your attention. Wong’s performance as the evil lawyer is kind of goofy, using big gestures and exaggerated line readings to sell his part. Wong has one line in English that the editor should’ve noticed was actually a flubbed line (“Do you know what the hell does that mean?!”) and it gave me a good laugh to see it in the final cut. Also amusing is that the film thinks Zorro was a real-life historical figure and not a fictional character…
It’s worth noting that 2014 was the 40th anniversary of the ICAC’s inception. By the end of the film, I was less sure that I’d watched a crime thriller and more certain that I’d just seen a long, ponderous recruitment video. At the end when the heroes are walking towards the camera like they’re getting ready to shoot the cover for their debut album, one of them says, “Where there is corruption, there’s the ICAC,” and somehow manages to keep a straight face. I half-expected a telephone number to appear at the bottom of the screen so that I could call and enroll. I probably would’ve called, too. I must join these magnificent, incorruptible badasses and finally put a stop to Michael Wong!… Or not.
Z Storm has enough money behind it that it’s clear that someone really wanted to see this film get made. The final result has the look and feel of a failed TV pilot, one that boasts an impressive cast and production values, but the men in charge had no idea what to do with it. The film even features an unresolved plot thread at the end which hints at more to come. No, thank you.
Kyle Warner’s Rating: 4/10