The Storm Riders

Reviewed by YTSL

This 1998 computer graphics heavy Andrew Lau offering reportedly is the all-time -- or at least, post "Jurassic Park" stomping and sending shivers down the spine of Hong Kong movie makers -- local box office king of the HKSAR.  An unusually well marketed visual extravaganza (with comic books, computer games, interactive media, electronic media and all sorts of merchandise tie-ins), it has been described -- by a Hong Kong Film Critics Society member named Loretta Chang -- as being more of a media campaign than a film.  Additionally, it was reputedly looked upon as a sterling representative of the hopes of certain segments of the Hong Kong movie industry to be able to compete with big budget Hollywood productions.

Ekin and Aaron
Reading the (other) existing reviews of THE STORM RIDERS that exist on the internet, one cannot help but realize that this cartoony -- even if epic in ambition and two years in the making -- movie adaptation of a comic book most definitely has its share of fans.  If you are the kind of person who likes special effects laden works or someone who can subsist -- at least for the duration of a single film -- on eye candy alone, I can see why and how this definite style-over-substance fantasy production can be appealing to some degree.  However, I most emphatically cannot be counted as an appreciator of such brainless and misogynistic fare which wastes the talents of so many good actors -- like Anthony Wong, Alex Fong, Yu Rong Guang, Vincent Wan and Roy Cheung; and if this list is not enough to make you weep, also throw Christine Ng into the equation... -- by consigning them to bit roles in this over two hour long travesty while pretty boys and girls are given plenty of time to pose, preen and prance around (yet still get easily upstaged by Sonny Chiba, whose part is that of the bloated and rather brainless piece's main villain and one real heavyweight, Lord Conquer).
Sonny Chiba and Kristy Yeung
With names like Striding Cloud, Whispering Wind and Frost, the main characters of THE STORM RIDERS could have been monumentally heroic figures.  Instead, as portrayed by the broody hen like Aaron Kwok, Ekin Cheng at his most blank faced and a bland looking Michael Tse respectively, they are childishly egoistical individuals whose wind-blown but always well-coifed hair have more personality than the rest of them.  Whereas the older Lord Conquer wants to rule the world, these juvenile boys' ambitions primarily consist of getting into bed -- either pre or post marriage -- with the powerful lord's daughter, Charity (who is played as a pretty stone-collecting sluttish bimbo by Kristy Yeung)...that is, when they are not out on accumulating and killing missions for their martial artistic sifu cum surrogate father, who they only turn against after they witness and (re-)learn that he caused the death of particular people whose lives and fates mattered so much more to them than the many innocents they unthinkingly murdered on the say so of the same man.
Yu Rong Guang and Alex Fong
Some people who know me will say that it was inevitable that I would so dislike a movie that stars Aaron Kwok (my candidate for the title of the world's most narcissistic man) and also has the frequently highly annoying, for many reasons, Hsu Chi in the cast.  This is particularly so when the line that "all women are trouble" gets solemnly asserted more than once (and masks the fact that actually, it's covetous men who really are to blame for a lot of the bad things that happen to people in THE STORM RIDERS).  I will readily admit that there's some truth to these suggestions.  Still, what really appalls me about this obviously expensively made offering is that it really does lack emotional as well as intellectual depth plus reduces virtually all of its characters to flat one-dimensionality, and what would otherwise be serious events -- like callous mass murder -- into mere footnotes in a frankly stupidly simplistic and predictable tale that didn't need to be so boringly told over that many feet and reels of film.
Wayne Lai, Sonny Chiba and Christine Ng
Writing this with some knowledge that mine probably is a minority opinion, I nonetheless will thank the Hong Kong movie gods that I did not view this horribly soulless as well as insubstantive effort at the time that it first appeared in East Asian multiplexes.  For if I had thought that this -- whose action scenes, I will also point out, are not only wire-assisted but also majorly cyber animation reliant and blurrily filmed -- would be the future of HKSAR cinema...Suffice to state for now that it might well have been impossible for me today to be the generally appreciative fan of film fare from that part of the world that I am (and remain, even after finally watching THE STORM RIDERS as well as the more technologically laughable but arguably more moving "A Man Called Hero"...).
Michael Tse, Ekin and Roy Cheung

My rating for this "film":  4.

Reviewed by Brian

Having been forewarned ahead of time, I went into this film with the low expectations of a fourteen-year-old virgin on his first date - meaning that if I got anything at all out of this film I would consider it a plus. Even so I came away from this big budget effort feeling frustrated that I didn't even have any human contact - physically or emotionally. This film is weightless, odorless, senseless and characterless - there is no there there - it is as empty as a computer's soul. To be fair though - I did find the "eye candy" that YTSL refers to as being terrifically inventive and visually delightful. The special effects are first rate - so much better than the ones for this film's abysmal cousin - A Man Called Hero  - and the cinematography and set designs are vivid, crisp, snazzy and manage to create an interesting alternative world. If only director Andrew Lau had added some blood and guts to this fantasy, it might have been a great film - but as it stands it is merely a lush parade of pretty images and prettier actors.

Jason Chu and Ng Chi-hung
This film should have been called the Young and Photogenic. The young stars look so sparkling clean and heroic - their jaws set like granite - immovable and impassive - cardboard characters being played by cardboard actors. What sort of direction was Lau giving his main actors - you are comic book characters - so that means you are not allowed to change expression - because that would be too difficult to draw. Aaron almost literally never changes his facial expression the entire film - it is set in this sullen Calvin Klein model look - as if his underwear is too tight or someone took the last piece of pecan pie. Ekin doesn't fare much better - he simply looks confused most of the time as if trying to figure out why no one is calling him "Big Brother" and looking a little peeved that Aaron is getting more close-ups and has better hair than he does. Kristy Yeung looks gorgeous - Lau simply makes her radiate - but it is clear she has no idea who her character is suppose to be - Lady MacBeth in training or Little Red Robin Hood - and she gets no help from anyone.
What really highlights the lightness of these three main characters is when they are contrasted to the supporting cast. The film has a terrific supporting cast  - often underutilized but still bringing a high degree of charisma to their roles. Alex Fong and Yu Rong Guang display passion in their small roles - Christine Ng is corrupt but poignantly tragic - Lawrence Cheng as the Jester is delightful - Wayne Lai as the Mud Buddha is slyly enigmatic - Roy Cheung as the Monk is a pillar of strength - Vincent Wan as Dr. Yu with the arm that no longer belongs to him is wise and just - and Anthony Wong takes an interesting slant on the Sword Saint. Rounding them out are Ng Chi-hung as Master Fung, Jason Chu as Master Fung's son, Tsui Kam Kong and Lee Sui-kei as two guests at the wedding. Hsu Chi also shows up as the daughter of Dr. Yu - but I must confess that her interpretation of this character was . . . interesting - but somewhat incongruent to how everyone else was playing his or her character. She actually laughed - and looked to be having a good time - something no one else seemed capable of. The problem of course is that all these side characters - as interesting as they were - could not fill the large and bottomless hole created by Ekin and Aaron.
When this film came out in 1998 there were many Hong Kong film fans that saw this as a sign of the end of Hong Kong film - that the uniqueness that made Hong Kong film special would be obliterated in a torrent of blue screens, computer graphics and Hollywood like marketing - but three years later we can see that this was fortunately not the case. So now one can more objectively view this film on its own merits. The first thing you conclude about this film is that in reality it is not an action film not in the Hong Kong sense. There is not one scene worthy of being called an action scene - it is all special effects or splashy editing as opposed to martial arts skills being employed. Some of it is fun - but there comes a point in the film where you ache for something real - man against man - flesh hitting flesh - steel clashing on steel - as opposed to people swirling their arms about and waves of energy and light being emitted and things being blown up.
Vincent Wan , Hsu Chi, Lawrence Cheng and Anthony Wong
So this is really a fantasy film - good vs. evil - destiny being fulfilled - all those classic elements that fantasy films are founded on. This film has all of this in theory - so why does it fail so miserably to involve one's emotions? The answer falls at the feet of Cloud and Wind. Are we suppose to care about these two - one a guilt free mass murderer and the other a dithering Hamlet who can't seem to find the backbone to revenge his parents or his love? Are we suppose to clutch our hearts and be thrilled when they finally team up together to fight Conqueror. They are not really even doing it for the right reasons - good vs. evil - but instead because Conqueror has hurt their feelings by turning on them. That he was cruel and wicked certainly never bothered them before  - they carried out his orders like spoiled upper class fraternity boys during freshman hazing. Am I suppose to care about their fates because they are Ekin and Aaron? Does anyone really want these two to rule this empire - certainly not me.
Compare this film to the classic Zu Warriors that it resembles in style. Zu Warriors has special effects that people chuckle at now for their lack of sophistication - but damn you care about the characters - you care about the outcome - you want the Ice Princess to survive  - you want Yuen Biao, Mang Hoi and Moon Lee to save the world - it has heart - this film doesn't even know where the heart is suppose to be.

My rating for this film: 6.0 (8 for the enjoyable fx and design - 4 for the uninvolving story)

DVD Information:

Distributed by Universe

The transfer is terrific - pretty much what you would expect from this film.


Cantonese and Mandarin language tracks

16 Chapters with titles

The subtitles are Chinese or English.

There is a trailer for this film - in Cantonese, Mandarin and an International version.

The subs are on the black border and are very easy to read.

There are a number of Star Files - Aaron Kwok, Ekin Cheng, Kristy Yeung, Hsu Chi, Sonny Chiba, John Chu, Raymond Chow, Andrew Lau, Manfred Wong and Ma Wing Shing (the comic creator).

There is a summary and information on the characters in the film.

There is a Making of piece.

A visual piece on the special effects.

A poster collection.