The Stormriders (HK 1998)

Rating: ***
Review Date: 9/26/99
Director: Andrew Lau
Cast: Aaron Kwok, Ekin Cheng, Sonny Chiba, Kristy Yang, Qi Shu, cameos by Yu Rong Guang, Tsui Kam Long, Alex Fong, Anthony Wong

Fantastic. This is the best and most unusual film to come out of Hong Kong in many years - revolutionary for an industry that's been struggling for so long. The first big surprise is seeing a revamped Golden Harvest logo show up at the beginning of the film. That's followed by an equally surprising three minute long computer animated intro and credits sequence. Whoa. Based on a Japanese manga, this is a fantasy swordplay epic about a power-mad ruler named Conquer (Sonny Chiba) and his two disciples Cloud (Aaron Kwok) and Wind (Ekin Cheng). A prophecy states that Cloud and Wind will one day make Conquer invincible, only to later destroy him. As with most powerful rulers, Conquer only chooses to believe the good prophecy and fights like crazy to ensure that the bad one is never fulfilled. The key to everything is Conquer's beautiful daughter (Kristy Yang), and when she is accidentally killed, all hell breaks loose between the three warriors. Wind and Cloud lose their way for a while, but when Conquer's treachery is exposed, they team up to fight him. The final showdown is fascinating as Wind and Cloud take up their fathers' swords and fulfill their destinies.

A very stylistic film with fantastic art direction, wonderful costumes, state of the art digital effects, berzerk editing and cinematography, and kinetic (albeit sometimes annoying) action sequences. This may be the first Hong Kong film I've seen that incorporates digital wire removal, and most of the flying stunts look great. Overall, the effects range from very good to downright cheezy. Some of the composites just look bad, and several scenes suffer horribly from the 24 fps to 30 fps video transferring process. But I think that the film's biggest fault is the fact that it never emotionally engages the viewer. It's all very pretty and very intense to watch, but I never cared for any of the characters. Handsome pop star Aaron Kwok is the worst of the bunch, and his brooding tough guy act is unconvincing at best (but it grows on you after a while). Sonny Chiba's intensity and charisma steals the show and adds clout to the production, but even so, his character is shallow and two dimensional. But apart from these few minor technical flaws, I highly recommend this film to anyone who enjoys serious minded fantasy films and/or Asian cinema. It's quite a treat, and is just the kick in the pants that the industry needs.