Purple Storm

With the declining box office for HK films, HK filmmakers have turned their desperate eyes eastward towards the Promised Land of Hollywood. Hollywood films have made large inroads all over Asia and are financially impacting the HK film industry in a very negative way. But as the old saying goes “if you can’t beat them, join them” and a number of HK films have been produced over the past few years that are trying to be more “Hollywood” type productions. They have higher budgets, utilize CGI for special effects and tend to be slick action films in the tradition of Hollywood summer fare. The results thus far have been mixed – the films have in fact recaptured some of the box office, but the films have been met with resistance and disdain from many HK film fans for various reasons.

Purple Storm definitely falls into this Hollywood influenced genre of action films, but it has a depth and a complexity that films like A Man Called Hero and Gen– X Cops did not even approach. I am not talking Ashes of Time complexity here – but the film doesn’t feel as if it will blow away with the first breeze to come along. This is more than just a bunch of ex-fashion models strutting their stuff down the runway and changing clothes as often as possible. For one thing, there are a few veteran actors who give weight to the film and the new ones do a fine job – with one of them being very impressive.

Director Teddy Chan (Downtown Torpedoes) gets the film off to an explosive start and the film rarely looks back. The first thirty minutes of the film is admittedly a bit shaky as it feels like the filmmakers were afraid the audience would be bored if they added any expository to the scenes. So the audience is left in the dark to some degree as to why the attack on the boat takes place, what is the building that gets blown up and why and how do the cops know where the terrorists are hiding. The film though is moving so quickly that you just brush these thoughts away and eventually the film settles down into an intriguing, fast moving and focused narrative. Clearly, in a film like this, one doesn’t expect a lot of time and celluloid to be expended on character development – and that is the case here – but still within the confines of an action flick I thought the characters (both the good and bad guys) went beyond being simply one dimensional cardboard characters.

Daniel Wu and Josie Ho
Movies are always looking for new characters bent on world destruction and here in a different twist, the villain is a former Khmer Rouge assassin - Soong (played by Kam Kwok-leung). He has developed a chemical that when exploded in the atmosphere will mix with the rain and cause a deathly Purple Storm to fall upon the earth. As the Khmer Rouge attempted to do in Cambodia, he wants to take the world back to Ground Zero and begin society all over again.

His son, played by newcomer Daniel Wu, and Josie Ho are smuggling the chemical into HK on board a ship. In the opening scene, the crew attacks them and in a well-done action scene the two of them dispatch the crew in various ways. Josie Ho impresses immediately with her silent, ruthless and ferocious killing style. Her scenes in this film are kinetic and you are left wanting to see a lot more of her than this film offers. In the fight, Wu smashes his head, is knocked out and left behind. The police – led by Emil Chow and with Moses Chan and Patrick Tam as two of his men – capture him, but when they attempt to question him they learn that he has completely lost his memory.

Emil Chow, Wu and Joan Chen
The film proceeds into some interesting and morally gray territory here, as the police eventually allow psychiatrist Joan Chen to hypnotize Wu and re-program him with an entirely different life. Chow ponders whether they have the right to play God and program a man to kill his own father – but decides that for the greater good he must do it. They make Wu believe that he is “good” and that he was an undercover cop who had infiltrated the terrorist group. The police set him loose to either kill Soong or be killed. Wu is soon back among the terrorists and as images of his past start to flood through his mind he becomes more and more confused. Who is he? What is he? A killer or a cop. Wu does a fine job of portraying a man lost within himself  - trying to come to terms with who he really is. His scenes with Josie and Soong have a sad and tragic intensity to them.
Kam Kwok-leung and Joan
Still, in the final analysis this is an action film and though none of these stars are known for their action abilities, it still looks pretty good due to some sharp editing. Most of the action is gunplay and the scenes are well choreographed with some enjoyable and deadly moments (often courtesy of Josie). One area in which one has to suspend their disbelief is just how efficient the terrorists are. Their planning is so letter perfect that the poor cops are often left floundering and picking up their dead. At one point I was thinking if this was a football game, the score would be Terrorists 27, Police 0. Game suspended.
I enjoyed everyone’s performance. Joan Chen – making a rare appearance in a HK film – is suitably cool and prescient; Emil Chow is very solid as the dedicated and relentless cop, Kam Kwok-leung adds layers to his fanatical character, Wu was much better than I expected and Josie Ho in an almost non-speaking role simply burns up the screen with a smoldering intensity.
All in all, this is a fairly enjoyable piece of entertainment that is light years from high art – but is quite satisfactory in what it sets out to do.

My rating for this film: 7.5