Oxide (The Detective, Som and Bank) and Danny (Seven 2 One) Pang are known to go berserk when they can get their itching hands on CG, with varying results. It's not that they lack creative vision, but their budget doesn't always allow for great excesses. The Storm Warriors [Fung Wan II] changes all that. Epic in all respects, this is the moment both brothers were able to prove their worth. And they did.
The Storm Warriors carries quite a legacy. The original saga comes from a manga, which spawned a number of TV series, an animated film and one live action film. It's a huge franchise in the East, sadly it never really caught on in the West. This makes it a little harder for newcomers to get a good grasp on the whole Storm universe, though the Pang Brothers made sure to keep it accessible for outsiders.
The Pang Bros film is not a direct sequel to the first film but features the same core cast and characters. It's a pretty complex web of intrigue, drama and tragedy served in epic proportions. Though the story itself is somewhat muddled and complex, the film really isn't. Short bursts of plot progression catapult the film forward, bridging the gaps between huge stand-offs and grand battle scenes. Considering the scale, Oxide and Danny kept the film surprisingly small and pure.
The story finds Cloud and Wind (together they form a storm, get it?) fighting together to beat an evil warlord. The lord is looking for a sacred spine which grants him control over the Central Plains. Cloud and Wind fail to beat the warlord and are in desperate need to enhance their strengths. Both venture their own paths in trying to increase their fighting powers, resulting in what must be one of the longest stand-offs in movie history.
Visually the Pang Bros go wild. Though the CG environments look a tad fake and shabby at times, the Pangs more than make up with superbly executed fantasy martial arts spells and some truly stunning art direction. The big fights early in the movie are based on the same fighting aesthetics seen in 300 but are executed in a style almost resembling animation. It's simply jaw-dropping beautiful to behold.
The fights later on are of a smaller magnitude and feature more common action aesthetics. And yet, the "liquid smoke" effects are equally stunning and justify the almost obsessive way the Pang Bros use them to fill scene after scene. Sadly the actual one-on-one battles do look a bit poor in comparison, featuring camera work which is a little too hectic to impress. These scenes are rather rare though and don't hurt the overall visual grandeur of the film.
The soundtrack is a little too epic for its own good. The brothers have a way of incorporation some electronic influences, sadly they can't be heard in this film's soundtrack. The theme tune is way too cheesy, the score itself a little overdone. Acting performances are a little divided too, with Kwok and Cheng proving they can't even carry a film like this. Yam, Tse en Luet on the other hand make sure that it's not all negative. Though only Yam has a key role in the film, they're all able to add something substantial.
The Storm Warriors is an easy film to burn down. It's a true effects film, focused on posing, epic drama and excessive visual effects. The plot is only there to jump from one fight to the next, the tragedy is a simple result of the epic proportions of the story. It never attempts to truly engage or to evoke genuine emotion. It's all about the cool and the grand magic spells.
I truly believe the Pangs made the right decisions making this film. It's not the type of story that asks for a serious execution. All plot is filler so the more you minimize it, the less filler you have. The story and setting are beyond epic and so it's better to blow everything completely out of proportion. And that's exactly what they have done.
The Storm Warriors is definitely not a masterpiece, but taking it at face value, it's an almost perfect piece of entertainment featuring some stunning art direction. It has some of the grandest and baffling fighting sequences I've seen in a long time. With that, I don't really care about some shabby acting performances or a poor soundtrack. A worthy upgrade from the original film, but approach with care. If you want epic with a ridiculously serious rendition of a stupid plot, stick to the Matrix', LOTRs and Avatars of this world.