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Despite what that title may indicate, there aren’t all that many drug lords in the follow-up to Benny Chan’s surprise 2013 hit The White Storm. Veteran pulp crime drama director Herman Yau picks up for Chan in The White Storm 2: Drug Lords and steers far away from the first film’s tale of conflicted cops chasing a drug trafficker in Thailand. Instead, he settles in to concoct a relatively run-of-the-mill cops-and-robbers thriller with few surprises — with the exception of the final gonzo car chase through Hong Kong’s Central subway station.
Why no one has thought to do this before now is a mystery for the ages, but that enjoyably ridiculous sequence and some cheeky hamming by co-star Louis Koo (taking over the mantle of “hardest-working man in show business” with a staggering 18 films on his slate this year) make up for what the pic lacks in narrative logic or editorial flow.
Drug Lords is likely to be received with the same kind of reception the first film did, meaning audiences at home in Hong Kong, in China (there’s a clear cut anti-drug message that should prove easily digestible) and overseas that got a kick out of the original will probably check this out. And at roughly a half-hour shorter (!), Drug Lords has Yau’s signature hyper-efficient pacing (editing comes courtesy of Yau regular Chung Wai-chiu) that could actually win it new fans. Yau and frequent co-writers Erica Li and Eric Lee dispense with the lofty thematic goals Chan toyed with (and never really achieved), making Drug Lords a leaner entertainment-for-entertainment’s-sake exercise that’s ideal for the summer season.
The film starts in flashback, with Tin (Andy Lau) and Dizang (Louis Koo) working as the right hands of Ching Hing gang boss Nam (Kent Cheng). Tin’s dad was a junkie, and Nam is a Vito Corleone type, refusing to peddle drugs of any type. Of course, Dizang goes behind his back to start dealing, and when he’s found out, Nam orders Tin to lop off a few of Dizang’s fingers. A bitter rivalry is born. The scene where Tin drops Dizang at a hospital and calls him back to the car, waving a Ziploc with the missing fingers in it, like, “Hey, you forgot these,” is actually hilarious.
Fifteen years later, Dizang is still bitter, but he’s also one of Hong Kong biggest drug lords, and Tin is a “legitimate” business tycoon with a hotshot lawyer wife, Michelle (Karena Lam). Circling Dizang is Fung (Michael Miu), a narcotics bureau detective with a wife who died in a previous drug war. Their lives align when Fung’s daughter begs Tin for help with the traffickers, and feeling guilty, he promptly offers a $10 million bounty to whoever eliminates Dizang. Fung becomes his bodyguard.
The rest of Drug Lords unfolds pretty much along the lines that are expected: The cop and the tycoon become unlikely allies; Dizang and Tin enter into a war of attrition using their disparate methods; and Lam indeed gets fridged. Everything moves at such a rapid clip, Yau, Li and Lee seem to skip enlightening character motivations or shading to make it all run just a little smoother. It is a step up from Yau and Lau’s last collaboration on Shock Wave in 2017 — where again Yau exploited a piece of stalwart Hong Kong infrastructure — but proves something of a blown opportunity by sidelining the other drug lords.
A four-way fight could have made things more epic, but the rival slingers, Sister Ca (Cherrie Ying), Cho Ping (MC Jin) and Cho Thai (Jun Kung) are given short shrift. They barely register before they’re sent packing in some manner. On top that, several threads go nowhere — chiefly the story about Tin’s ex-girlfriend and the troubled son they had, Michelle’s agony over her inability to bear a child (medically it’s more likely his problem, sister) and the vigilante bounty. Did no one realize television empires were built on the debate over vigilantism?
The real star, though, is car stunt choreographer Gobi Ng’s utterly nutty chase down the escalator into Central Station, around the concourse, onto the platform and into the train tunnel. It’s just crazy enough to be engaging, and visual effects supervisors Yee Kwok-leung, Ma Siu-fu, Leung Wai-man and Ho Man-lok do a great job with the make-believe destruction, never tipping into rubbishy CGI.
The always-charming Koo runs a close second as the slightly unhinged Dizang, sporting a weedy goatee and wielding his mechanical hand like a harbinger of trouble. He nibbles on the scenery, never quiet chewing it, but demonstrates some comic timing that’s a welcome break from the otherwise dour proceedings. He’s having enough fun to make up for the ever-serious Lau, who seems more focused on his producing duties than on exploring Tin as anything other than the righteous hero Lau seems have resigned himself to playing.
Production companies: Universe Entertainment, Guangdong Sublime Media, Sil-Metropole, Focus Films, Sun Entertainment, Hero Film Co.
U.S. distributor: CMC Pictures
Cast: Andy Lau, Louis Koo, Michael Miu, Karena Lam, Cheung Kwok Keung, Carlos Chan, Michelle Wai, Jun Kung, MC Jin, Kent Cheng, Gordon Lam, Chrissie Chau, Cherrie Ying
Director: Herman Yau
Screenwriters: Herman Yau, Erica Li, Eric Lee
Producers: Andy Lau, Alvin Lam, Esther Koo, C.K. Wong
Executive producers: Daneil Lam, Leo Yu
Director of photography: Joe Chan
Production designer: Renee Wong
Costume designer: Cindy Mok
Editor: Chung Wai-chiu
Music: Brother Hung
World sales: Universe Entertainment
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