Un­der­cover blues

Much heroic blood and many manly tears are shed in this over­wrought but mostly ef­fec­tive cops-vs-drug-king­pins thriller.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - MOVIES - Re­view by DAVIN ARUL en­ter­tain­ment@thes­tar.com.my

WHAT’S that old coun­try song that goes “My teardrops fell like rain that day”? No re­ply needed – the whole world knows. Just like many of the moral and eth­i­cal ques­tions posed to the char­ac­ters in this cop drama don’t re­ally re­quire any an­swers, be­cause the is­sues are fun­da­men­tal and fa­mil­iar.

Trust, loy­alty, sur­vival, hon­our and be­trayal – ah, all the ingredients for a good “heroic blood­shed” movie.

The ap­peal of The White Storm, which as­pires to achieve the sta­tus of a crime epic, is in see­ing how its flawed but re­lat­able char­ac­ters deal with the fall­out of their ac­tions and de­ci­sions. Its core act­ing tri­umvi­rate is the main draw, next to the sweep­ing story (which is tripped up some­what by tak­ing too many de­tours).

Once upon a time there were three lit­tle boys who went to the po­lice academy and grew up to be played by HK movie idols: Tin (Sean Lau), the am­bi­tious and driven in­spec­tor who will stop at noth­ing to keep the drug lords from over­run­ning the city; Chow (Louis Koo), the un­der­cover cop who wants out so that he can spend time with his wife (Yuan Quan), who is ex­pect­ing their first child; and Wai (Nick Che­ung), the loyal guy who re­spects and ad­mires both his bud­dies.

Besties from child­hood to adult­hood, they care so deeply for one another that each man pro­foundly re­grets any de­ci­sions or ac­tions that hurt the oth­ers. How pro­foundly? By shed­ding plenty of heroic blood and manly tears when the sit­u­a­tion calls for it.

How do you shed manly tears? By trembling with barely re­strained rage, or gri­mac­ing from the pain you know you’ve caused some­one else, or look­ing off into the dis­tance (the Zen art of star­ing with­out look­ing), or stand­ing in a ceme­tery scream­ing word­lessly and sound­lessly while wa­ter ar­tis­ti­cally leaks from the cor­ner of one or both eyes, teardrops fall­ing like rain. (If these guys were Trans­form­ers, they’d be Emoti­cons.)

So, it goes like this: Chow is about to hand Tin a big drug bust, but HQ pulls the plug at the last mo­ment be­cause the mid-size fish they’ve tar­geted can lead in­ter­na­tional law en­force­ment to a prize catch: the last re­main­ing Golden Tri­an­gle opium war­lord known as the Eight-faced Bud­dha (Lo Hoi-pang).

Sur­rounded by a small army, most likely de­ployed to elim­i­nate ev­ery­one who makes fun of his bad hair, old Eight-faced is a reclu­sive and crafty in­di­vid­ual who con­ducts most of his busi­ness through his sons and (ac­cord­ing to Chow) trans­gen­der “daugh­ter”. So it’s go­ing to be a chal­lenge not only to draw him out, but to bring him in.

Forced to stay in the game, Chow fol­lows the trail to Thai­land while Tin and Wai tail him as part of an in­ter­na­tional

benny chan Sean Lau, Louis Koo, Nick che­ung, Lo Hoi-pang, Ken Lo, yuan Quan law en­force­ment task force. Which, as in­fer­nal luck would have it, has a mole in its midst.

Long story short, Thai­land be­comes the turn­ing point in the three of­fi­cers’ re­la­tion­ship through some star­tling, vi­o­lent twists – re­sult­ing in a re­ver­sal of for­tune as well as sev­eral rev­er­sals of role. In a way, it plays out kind of like A Bet­ter To­mor­row only with the pro­tag­o­nists all on the side of the law.

As big as the whole Thai­land se­quence seems, it’s only the mid­way point of this epic, which re­ally could have done with a bit of trim­ming and a lit­tle hold­ing back of the emo stuff.

Like di­rec­tor/co-writer Benny Chan’s most re­cent ef­fort, Shaolin, the drama tends to over­reach it­self and be­come melo­drama, rob­bing many scenes of the im­pact they would’ve had if the film­maker had di­alled it back a lit­tle.

There are more than a few scenes, too, where you re­ally wish he hadn’t in­sisted on hav­ing the cast speak in English. Not only does it sound like they’re just read­ing their lines, it sounds like some body part was be­ing crushed in a vice at a time. Well, at least the char­ac­ters don’t shout at each other all the time, like in Spe­cial ID.

One of The White Storm’s mo­ments that are cal­cu­lated to max out the sen­ti­men­tal­ity did work quite well for me. It in­volves Wai’s el­derly mother (Law Lan), who is go­ing se­nile, and how she keeps mis­tak­ing Tin and Chow for her son while not recog­nis­ing him at all. It’s a ma­nip­u­la­tive trick on the au­di­ence, sure, but the leads and Ms Law make it work with nu­anced por­tray­als where they work in sub­tle hints of their re­spec­tive re­grets.

It’s too bad that the way things play out among the three friends doesn’t al­ways ring true be­cause of the ex­ag­ger­ated or con­trived cir­cum­stances.

There’s one in­ex­pli­ca­ble hand­sev­er­ing scene which just doesn’t make any sense, es­pe­cially not when you see what the un­handed fel­low does af­ter that.

And the fi­nale mostly con­sists of bad guys – sup­pos­edly crack mer­ce­nar­ies who be­have more like mer­ce­nar­ies on crack – throw­ing them­selves into the he­roes’ line of fire. Shades of A Bet­ter To­mor­row II!

These lit­tle com­plaints aside, The White Storm is still an am­bi­tious un­der­tak­ing that suc­ceeds more than it stum­bles.

It does ask a lot of the viewer, in­clud­ing some pa­tience, but the strong per­for­mances of its three prin­ci­pal ac­tors and the mostly well-staged ac­tion make the jour­ney a bumpy but en­ter­tain­ing ride.

It’s only a scratch: ‘No fear – any­thing that’s not cen­tre mass or a head­shot is just a mi­nor ir­ri­ta­tion to us heroic blood­shed pro­tag­o­nists.’

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