Crime thriller a busy mess

Andy Lau (above left) and Louis Koo play two best friends and sworn triad brothers who have a falling out in The White Storm 2: Drug Lords.
Andy Lau (above left) and Louis Koo play two best friends and sworn triad brothers who have a falling out in The White Storm 2: Drug Lords.PHOTO: SHAW ORGANISATION

The A-list cast, location changes and frantic tone of The White Storm 2: Drug Lords are not enough to lift the thin plot

REVIEW / CRIME THRILLER

THE WHITE STORM 2: DRUG LORDS (NC16)

100 minutes/Opens today/2.5 stars

The story: In Hong Kong some years ago, two best friends and sworn triad brothers, Yu Shun Tin (Andy Lau) and Jizo (Louis Koo), have a falling out. In the present day, Yu is a business tycoon and philanthropist who champions anti-drug causes, while Jizo is the chief of a drug ring. It is only a matter of time before the two men have a reckoning. While this has been titled as if it were a sequel to the 2013 crime thriller The White Storm, also starring Koo, this film has a new story and characters.

The simplest way to sum up this messy remix of a movie would be to imagine if the millionaire Bruce Wayne from Batman appeared in an episode of the Netflix police story Narcos as an anti-drug crusader.

But that becomes apparent only after a soap opera sequence showing Wayne's troubled family history involving an illegitimate drug-addict son, causing Wayne to go vigilante, where he uses his wealth as a weapon.

There is a lot going on here, yet very little. The family schmaltz around Yu is character motivation, to show how a minor boss in a triad flip-flops to the side of good and wins at capitalism.

Yu and Jizo are clearly meant to be mirror images, each standing on opposite sides of the law, with fates inextricably linked, in the standard crime thriller sense.

It is the stuff director and co-writer Herman Yau puts around the frame that gives the film its frantic tone - big car crashes and character motivations that appear out of nowhere. Why does Yu, for example, care so deeply for an illegitimate son he had never met that he would risk it all to get payback for the boy's death?

There are changes in location that feel done for their own sake, like when the story moves to the Philippines, to follow the brutal war on drugs there. Police computers are hacked with ease and Yu rises to be a tycoon in the blink of an eye because of, you know, "corporate takeovers".

Director Yau has a reputation for prolific output. This year alone, his name is attached to three movies and it is easy to see why.

He does not finesse shots, leaning heavily on available light - one rarely sees a shadowless, wrinkle-free face on the middle-aged leading men, even on the seemingly ageless 48-year-old Koo.

And he takes a functional view of acting: hit the mark, say the lines and move on.

Lau is a producer. This could explain why the story leans so heavily on his character's arc, in spite of his scenery-chewing straining credulity and patience.

The Yu of the opening scenes, weeping and hysterical at the price paid for a life of crime, is suddenly the Yu who appears later as a stoic captain of industry.

Characters can change, but they should not become two completely different people.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 11, 2019, with the headline 'Crime thriller a busy mess'. Print Edition | Subscribe