L STORM (2018) review

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Who could have predicted that David Lam’s modestly-successful financial thriller Z Storm would open the way to a full-blown franchise, yielding four installments in 5 years? In 2016, S Storm doubled its predecessor’s box-office take, before seeing its own financial success doubled by this year’s L Storm. And P Storm will come out in late 2019. Here, Louis Koo is back as William Luk, the handsome ICAC (Independent Commission Against Corruption) agent who looks bored even when he’s chasing a perp down an obstacle-strewn alleyway. Back from S Storm is Lau Po Keung (Julian Cheung) of the JFIU (Joint Financial Intelligence Unit): together, Luk and Lau investigate a money laundering case involving a corrupt customs officer (Michael Tse) and a dangerous criminal mastermind (Patrick Tam). Meanwhile, officer Ching Tak Ming (Kevin Cheng), of the ICAC’s own internal affairs division, has his sights set on Luk, after it is revealed by an informant (Stephy Tang) that he accepted a sizable bribe.

L Storm is a definite step up from its two predecessors, which were watchable but ponderous affairs, constantly spelling out arcane details and speechifying about the ICAC’s holy mission at the expense of character development and a proper pace. Here, there are more shades of grey as the ICAC itself is shown to have internal strife, and while the central figure that is William Luk is still a dead-eyed cypher after three films (it’s obvious Louis Koo is there for the paycheck alone, though he does earn it by running more than Tom Cruise in his past ten films), at least he’s surrounded by a more varied and colorful cast, including charismatic  support from Julian Cheung and Kevin Cheng, and scummy, dangerous turns by Patrick Tam, Adam Pak, Li Xinyue and a pipe-smoking Liu Kai Chi, with (very) modestly affecting  roles for Michael Tse and Stephy Tang. And contrary to Z and S, L does have a pulse, with a nothing-new yet reasonably involving plot that erupts into passable – though occasionally clumsily shot – chases and shootouts every fifteen minutes. Maybe by the time David Lam runs out of letters in the alphabet, we’ll have a masterpiece on our hands.

Long Story Short: A step up for this unexpectedly successful franchise. **1/2

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