Asian Fantasy
The Storm Riders
.
Dir: Andrew Lau
Star: Sonny Chiba, Aaron Kwok, Kristy Yang, Ekin Cheng
Cert / Year: 12 / 1998
Format: DVD R2
'

The fish with golden scales becomes a dragon, when Wind and Cloud unite.

Maniacal martial arts master and warlord Lord Conquer (Sonny Chiba) obsessed with being the greatest martial arts master has systematically defeated/killed virtually all of his peers and rivals in the pursuit of collecting the most powerful weapons in order to bolster his already ample martial arts skills. Obsessed about his destiny and the future, Conquer turns to renowned seer Mud Buddha (Lai Yu-hung), whose precognative skill is unsurpassed. To his delight Conquer learns that he will enjoy a period of ten years as the unrivalled martial arts master of the world.....provided he can find two children with very specific birth charts. The two children will be known as Wind and Cloud and together they hold the key to Conquer's destiny. Conquer must take them in and train them in the martial arts. Conquer accidentally finds the young Whispering Wind when he battles his father Whispering Prince but when he is devoured by a fire demon part way through the duel Conquer is cheated of his victory and the prize of Whispering Prince's Blizzard Blade. Nonetheless he takes the young Whispering Wind into his home for training. Conquer's discovery of the young Striding Cloud was far more bloody as all of the boy's family were murdered whilst Conquer's men searched for him. Upon finding the two boys as predicted by Mud Buddha, Conquer trains them as his own sons and over the ten years they master their individual disciplines. The ever cool and level headed Wind (Ekin Cheng) masters his Wind Kicks and the brooding and moody Cloud (Aaron Kwok) perfects his Cloud palms, growing into powerful martial artists who share a common interest.......the love of Lord Conquer's daughter Charity (Kristy Yang).

It is nice to see Chinese cinema going back to it's roots with a nice period kung-fu fantasy piece. Whilst most audiences were being wowed by Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon The Stormriders was doing three times triple the business without all the American hype. The film is adventurous for Hong Kong cinema and does break new ground in many respects especially for the standardized recipe of wire work and swordfights. To make The Stormriders the director took a big chance as they did something completely new to them and that was to incorporate some extreme and state of the art computer graphics into a typical martial arts film. The filmmakers brought in "experts" from the USA to advise and for the most part, they were very successful. Thankfully instead of permitting the CGI to govern the story and the film it is used to good effect as characters display almost omnipotent fighting abilities and some of the combat sequences are right out of "Tekken" or perhaps "Battle Arena Toshinden" which should help make the film more appealing to the Playstation generation.

The story is based upon the hugely popular comic book series by Ma Wing-Sing and unlike many similar films it maintains the essential spark of the characters personalities which may have also been a major contributing factor in this films popularity. As the story is taken from many issues of the comic, it may appear a little complicated or complex but this is merely an intricate weaving of the story.

A good all round cast provide some excellent performances, from the merciless Lord Conquer superbly portrayed by veteran Japanese actor (Sonny Chiba). I seriously couldn't have imagined anyone else playing the part half as well it is just a shame that his voice is so obviously dubbed. I was quite impressed by the performance of Ekin Cheng as Whispering Wind. He works very well and shared a good chemistry with popular singer turned actor Aaron Kwok is equally brilliant as Striding Cloud (perhaps the blue hair thing is a little too literal a translation from the comic) and is positively boisterous at times but he has a good prescence on screen and handles some good martial arts. Former Miss Asia (1995) Kristy Yang is playfully alluring in a flirtatious sort of way as Charity, and plays provides a "romantic" interest which ties most of the films protagonists together. The chemistry is superb between the primary cast and the whole love triangle thing works well even if it does add a bit more to the story than a simple kung-fu fantasy. At times it appears that maybe the director lost sight of his objective whilst making this film as it occasionally tires and loses the focus on the story. The narrative is hard going overall which may be down to this being over two hours in length.

To some, the bountiful CGI and special effects could be seen as detremental to the overrall film and story, but not in this case. The enhancement of the battles with CGI is impressive and works to the films advantage. Unfortunately to this end, if you are a fan of martial arts then you won't see a great deal of them on display here as the CGI does rule the combat I'm afraid. The kinetic fight scenes are impressive and do afford you the oppurtunity now and again to just say....wow.

Directorially I have to admit that the film is beautifully shot and the energy which director Andrew Lau has tried to capture does occasionally come powerfully across. Unfortunately at times it seems as though he is trying to be Tsui Hark and it doesn't quite work. The work of Tsui Hark of course set the standard for Hong Kong cinema and indeed for much of the American market with his visionary works including Zu Warriors from Magic Mountain and Once Upon a Time in China. Lau just lacks the experience I feel to make this the landmark film that it should have been. On the plus side the CGI enhances the way that the film has been shot like a comic book and elevates it from the typical kung fu movie genre. At times you can almost forget that you are watching a film as the film has a distinct Anime air to it. The battles play out like Anime and even the photography is virtually identical. The whole waterfall scene with Cloud meditating under the torrent is well shot and the concussive water effects were simply superb affording a glimpse at some of his awesome power.

Despite the fact that Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon pretty much stole the thunder for this film upon release this is a noteworthy picture and certainly a film that a fan of Asian fantasy / martial arts movies would want to see. The martial arts may well be minimal but the combat certainly isn't and that is probably what will draw most viewers to it. To some this may appear a long winded and CGI fuelled attempt to bring to life a popular comic book...... but what do you think American filmmakers been trying to do for years, the most recent offerings of course being Spiderman and The Hulk!

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

DVD
Picture 1.85:1 Anamorphic Excellent sharp image
Audio Dolby Digital 5.1 Outstanding
DISC 1
Features Animated menus
Making of The Stormriders - featurette (subtitled)
Special Effects featurette
Character profiles
Cast & filmmaker biographies
Production Stills gallery
Remastered English subtitles
3 Theatical trailers
DISC 2
Features Full Screen (4.3) presentation
rather dull "international" version of the film (only 90minutes long!)
Badly dubbed English language version
Theatrical trailer
Dolby Digital soundtrack
Verdict A cool set despite the fact that there is little real reason to have the "international" version. Most of the story is missing and becomes almost unwatchable after seeing the directors cut on disc 1. A good presentation of an unduly little heard of film.

Rating: 3 out of 5

Reviewed by Logan Back Top Home