So there once was this Hong Kong triad where dealing drugs was strictly forbidden, in a Don Corleone offer-you-can’t-refuse kind of way.
And because of that, triad underboss Yu Shin-Tin (Andy Lau) was ordered to maim fellow underboss Jizo (Louis Koo) as punishment.
An ill-deserved penalty, as those paying attention during this film’s packed opening sequence would realise, but an act that nonetheless sends both men down wildly different paths which inevitably converge years later.
The tension between Tin and Jizo is supposed to be at the core of this unrelated follow-up to the 2013 hit The White Storm, but it takes almost half the film for it to resurface after that opening incident.
Before that, director Herman Yau (taking over from Benny Chan) shows us over and over how drugs are a menace to society, and reminds us how the police, for all their valiant efforts, typically net only the small fry of the operation.
Well meant, but hardly necessary given all the real, imagined and dramatised depictions of the drug menace in the media.
Two of the main characters here have good reason to hate the drug scourge, yet they take their respective personal tragedies in stride with nary a hint of emotion.
This stoic internalising tends to make the good guy (anti-narcotics cop Fung, played by Michael Miu) and the “grey” guy (Tin) somewhat inaccessible as characters.
Instead, it puts all the colour, charisma and cheesiness rather dubiously in the hands (such as they are) of the primary bad guy, Jizo.
Koo does not hold back in chewing the scenery here, whether it’s baiting Tin at a funeral, barking out orders to wage war on fellow drug lords during a tryst with one of his many girlfriends, or batting his eyelids at Hong Kong’s assembled press corps in a show of innocence when singled out as the biggest criminal in the land.
Tin’s grim determination to battle the drug menace is supposed to be the counterpoint to Jizo’s criminal extravagance.
However, the character is rather thinly written to the point that his family troubles overshadow his grander ambitions, and his motivation seems to be guilt more than anything else.
Yet there’s no denying that even in a shakily-structured role, Lau has not lost a step when it comes to commanding a viewer’s attention (just check out the scene where he methodically, coldly loads pistol magazines after being inevitably pushed too far).
The original White Storm successfully crafted a strong sense of camaraderie among its principal players, making their eventual collision (and fence-mending) meaningful.
The principal shortcoming of this follow-up is in creating a consistent and compelling antagonism between its two main characters. Storm? More like cloudy with a chance of cheeseballs.
The film even misplaces its “bond of brothers” moments, spending them on peripheral characters who ultimately do not matter much to the proceedings.
At least Yau, who last directed Lau in the massively destructive Shock Wave, does not skimp on the action scenes.
At times, the numerous factions involved – cops, drug lords, rival drug lords, and a privately-funded mob out to destroy the drug trade – make it hard to tell combatants apart.
And that is not always a bad thing, because sometimes it actually heightens the suspense – particularly during one hospital-set shootout/getaway scene where we are kept guessing just who succeeded until later.
There’s no confusion in the film’s grand set-piece, though – a wild and quite insane car chase that takes these speeding vehicles to places you never imagined they could fit.
Once again, the action unit and stunt team far outperform those on scripting duties. While the screenplay is a lot better than in some recent HK action/crime misfires (I’m looking at you, The Invincible Dragon and Undercover: Punch & Gun), it goes off in too many directions and keeps a decent film from being an excellent one.
The White Storm 2 – Drug Lords
Director: Herman Yau
Cast: Andy Lau, Louis Koo, Michael Miu, Karena Lam, Kent Cheng