From the Archive – Storm Riders (1998)

Storm

 

Directed by Wai Keung Lau
Starring Aaron Kwok and Ekin Cheng

Lord Conquer of the Conqueror Clan is busy a-conquering, when his adviser, Mud Buddha, gives him a two part prophecy. The first part is that he must find two boys to make his apprentices, called Cloud and Wind, and they will help him to rule the world. The second part is hidden in a funky puzzle-box.

Conquer battles the warrior Whispering Prince, to try and take his sword, ‘Blizzard Blade’, but Prince is killed by a flame beast and the sword lost. Conquer takes the man’s son, Striding Wind, as his apprentice. Then Conquer has a swordsmith killed in the search for his masterpiece, ‘Life’s Best Sword’, but it is hidden. instead, Conquer takes the man’s son, Cloud. He also has a third apprentice, Frost, and a daughter, Charity.

Twenty years later, Wind is a nice boy, Frost a bit of a tough guy, and Cloud a moody loner with purple hair. All three are in love with Charity, and she’s seeing Cloud on the sly. They get sent out on various missions, and strut their funky kung fu stuff. Each knows one of Conquer’s special kung fu styles: Wind knows the Wind Kick, which allows him to create small tornadoes; Frost has the Frost Fist, which lets him freeze opponents; and Cloud – the strongest of the three – has Cloud Palm, which lets him manipulate water with the power of his mind and use it as a form of attack.

There’s some killing and a little fuing, and Conquer learns from Mud Buddha that Cloud and Wind are destined to bring him down. He announces Charity’s marriage to Wind, and when Cloud comes to claim her instead, tries to kill them both while they fight. However, Charity takes the shot and dies, and Cloud takes her body away. He steals the Frost Vigour from some poor luckless clan (as you do), and takes her to a mortuary. There he is attacked by Conquer and loses an arm.

Conquer tries to have Wind killed, but instead Wind eats the good drugs, reclaims his father’s sword and kills the Flame Beast. He learns of Conquer’s treachery from Mud Buddha – or was it Frost who learned that; it’s unclear – and gets all riled up. Meanwhile, Cloud gets his lost arm replaced by the Flame Beast Arm of All-Heal Yu (as you do), and comes gunning for Conquer himself.

Conquer fights Sword Saint in a duel, and is almost killed, but All-Heal Yu’s dim daughter prods Sword Saint’s body while his astral spirit is bringing the shit, and he explodes (as you do).

Cloud and Wind battle their former teacher. Cloud’s blood unlocks the hiding place of ‘Life’s Best Sword’, and they beat him down and leave him broken and defeated.

The end.

What’s wrong with it?

Well, aside from the fact that great swathes of the plot are incomprehensible, and that the characters are mostly unlikeable for one reason or another, there is just no kung fu in this kung fu movie. In the great tradition of Zu: Warriors From the Magic Mountain, Storm Riders is an SFX fest, with firebolts, chi balls and water darts flashing everywhere, but very little in the way of actually kicky, punchy, sword-fighty goodness in sight. With the digital effects and the choppy editing, Storm Riders actually plays out more like a western attempt at a kung fu movie – Big Trouble in Little China, say – than a serious kicking movie.

The film is populated by unpleasant people: Cloud is a moody psychopath, Charity a complete scrubber – Wind actually says that he won’t marry her if she loves one of the others, but she figures she can marry him and still fool around with Cloud – and Wind a big drip. In all, it’s hard to truly say that Cloud is any better than Conquer, and Wind just isn’t very interesting. All-Heal Yu of the Flame Beast Arm is pretty sorted, but his daughter is just annoying.

Anyone at all sympathetic seems to exist purely to suffer. Mud Buddha is tormented by boils and sores; the son of the Unchallenged City finds his people butchered by Cloud, seeks justice and is killed; Sword Saint gets to be all bad-ass, but then poofs because the annoying bint prods him; Frost is a genuine nice guy, if a little wild, and just gets royally shafted; the family who own the Frost Vigour only turn up so that Cloud can beat them with a coffin, throw an arrow through a pregnant woman’s chest and steal their family treasure. The list is endless.

And there’s a whole bunch of cheesy Canto-pop music, and lots of long dull scenes where nothing happens.

What’s right with it?

A few of the CGI’d fights are pretty good, and some of the supporting cast are decent. The mysterious and bad-ass Shaolin is good, and Sword Saint is just the shit until he gets prodded.

How bad is it really?

Storm Riders is a tedious action movie, and a kung fu movie with next to no kung fu. It’s not the worst film in the world, but frankly it plays like an overlong anime epic, especially with Cloud and his purple hair, and Wind’s flowing girly locks and frankly effeminate bearing. What makes it worse is that the film has been heavily hyped as ‘better than Crouching Tiger’. It’s not, and furthermore goes to show that what makes Crouching Tiger good is not that it’s just like they make them in China.

Perhaps this film would go down better in its homeland. Not being Chinese I can’t tell, but for my money, it’s just not that special.

Best bit?

Conquer follows Cloud to the mausoleum, knowing that in the desert where it is housed, his Cloud Palm kung fu will be useless. After Conquer pulverises his left arm, Cloud gets desperate, and rips his arm clean off so that he can use his own blood to do the Cloud Palm and escape.

What’s up with…?

  • The plot? I mean, really; what’s going on in this film?
  • The Frost Vigour? Cloud just shows up and demands this thing, with almost no explanation of what it is. It seems to be used to keep a body from decaying, but why? What makes it so important that the corpse stays fresh? It’s not like he’s going to keep her frozen until he finds a way to cure a chi-ball to the gut, yet he shows up and kills a bunch of folks to get it. And what’s up with those guys? We’ve never seen nor heard of them until Cloud shows up with his coffin to get their thing (which we’ve also never heard of until then).
  • The kung fu? Where is it? There’s no kung fu in this kung fu film; just CGI.

Ratings

Production values – Fairly spiffy, but all in all, not much more impressive than the far cheaper SFX in Zu Warriors. The music is dire, but might be okay if you liked Canto-pop. 10

Dialogue and performances – Difficult to know without speaking the language. The subtitled dialogue however was simply confusing, and often mistyped, and the leads did not come across as particularly charismatic. Might have worked better in the original Cantonese. 14

Plot and execution – The plot wanders like the condensed version of a twenty-seven hour TV mini-series, and indeed one gets the feeling this may be cut-down from a longer and less confusing effort. As it is, it’s baffling, and little attempt is made to help the audience along. 16

Randomness – Oh yes. All the usual kung fu weirdness is here. People say things like: “To find Mud Buddha, seek Fire Monkey”, and no-one bats an eyelid. Whole swathes of stuff goes unexplained, such as where All-Heal Yu got his Fire Beast Arm in the first place. All in all; ‘huh’? 18

Waste of potential – Again, it is difficult to judge, but the story is a classic, and frankly the film would have been much better if only the SFX had enhanced the kung fu, instead of replacing it altogether. 14

Overall 72%

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