P STORM (2019) review

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Less than five years after 2014’s modestly successful Z Storm, David Lam’s ICAC franchise is still strongly storming through the alphabet: with each new installment, box office results grow, while the light in Louis Koo’s eyes gets dimmer and dimmer. He returns as officer William Luk, a poster boy for the ICAC (Independent Commission Against Corruption, lest anyone forgot), a character which after four films still has the depth of, well, a poster. This time, Luk goes undercover in a prison where corruption runs rampant between a few powerful inmates – including wealthy heir Cao (Raymond Lam) – and most of the wardens, headed by superintendent Sham (Patrick Tam). There, his mission is made all the more risky by the presence of Wong (Gordon Lam), a former detective Luk himself put behind bars in Z Storm.

This franchise’s box office has made great strides, each new episode doubling its predecessor’s take: it’s not often that a franchise whose first installment earned a modest 17 million dollars, reaches 115 million dollars by its fourth film (let’s wait and see if 2021’s already-announced G Storm can reach 230 million dollars). Yet in terms of quality, there have only been baby steps. And so the absurdly-titled P Storm is a quarter of a notch above L Storm, which makes it the best film in the franchise – faint praise indeed. As always, plotting is both pedestrian and full of holes – not to mention thudding Mainland-placating footnotes – and pacing is off: a few surges of urgency punctuating a general humdrum atmosphere. The prison setting is interesting and adds some novelty to the franchise, though anyone expecting the grit and intensity of, say, Ringo Lam’s Prison on Fire, is in for a disappointment.

The ever-expanding cast is pleasant enough, but made both ineffectual by middling writing that gives no one the slightest depth, and slightly confusing by mixing actors back in the same role as in previous installments (Julian Cheung, Gordon Lam, Kevin Cheng, Ding Haifeng), others back in a new role (Patrick Tam, Sek Sau, Adam Pak, Dada Chan), and others who are now in their third or fourth different role within the franchise (Lo Hoi Pang, Liu Kai Chi). Around the expectedly morose-looking Koo, new addition Raymond Lam fares the best as an unhinged, entitled heir, a nice change of pace for the often squeaky-clean actor. It’s good to see Gordon Lam, whose enjoyable scuminess enlivened Z Storm, but his inclusion here is nothing more than a contrived plot device. Yet scum in no short supply thanks to the hammy presence of Patrick Tam and Liu Kai Chi. Julian Cheung merely cameos, while Kevin Cheng, who takes over in the fairly tense – yet clumsily-edited – helicopter finale, is clearly being groomed replace Koo in the last dozen letters of the alphabet.

Long Story Short: Another baby step for David Lam’s Storm franchise. **1/2

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