THE WHITE STORM 2: DRUG LORDS (2019) review

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Louis Koo’s third sequel of 2019, after P Storm and Chasing the Dragon II, and before Line Walker 2, Herman Yau’s The White Storm 2: Drug Lords (hereafter Drug Lords) is an in-name-only follow up (for obvious heroic bloodshed reasons) to Benny Chan’s hugely enjoyable 2013 actioner The White Storm. Koo plays Dizang, a triad member who gets severely punished by his boss (Kent Cheng) for peddling drugs in one of his night clubs. Reluctantly dishing out the punishment is his longtime friend Yu (Andy Lau), who cuts three of his fingers. Fifteen years later, Dizang has risen through the triad ranks and become a feared drug lord, while Yu has left the triads and become a billionaire financial expert, married to a successful lawyer (Karena Lam), and founder of an anti-drug charity. But when his illegitimate son Danny falls to his death while high on cocaine, Yu takes his fight against drugs to the next level, promising a 100-million $ bounty to whoever kills Dizang.

Apart from the presence of Louis Koo and the theme of drug dealing (which actually was very secondary, if not tertiary in the first installment), Drug Lords hasn’t got much in coming with The White Storm. The 2013 film was a gloriously tear-jerking, often extravagant heroic bloodshed revival based on a starry trio of actors at the height of their charisma. Here, the heroic bloodshed angle is absent, and though the ever-reliable Michael Miu is posited early on in the film as the third side of a tragic triangle, his presence feels mostly tacked on, inconsequential, while his star wattage is no match for either Lau or Koo, or the previous film’s Nick Cheung and Lau Ching Wan.

More damningly, the relationship between Lau and Koo, the very crux of the film, is sorely under-developed: a quick prologue set in 2004 doesn’t show anything of their friendship, summing it up perfunctorily with the line “we’ve known each other for 20 years”. Even taken individually, their characters are paper-thin, Lau’s a no-good henchman turned philanthropist in a lazy ellipsis, and Koo’s a sneering mobster who mostly sneers. As a consequence, their subsequent face-off is powered solely by the two stars’ unimpeachable charisma, but even then, Erica Li and Li Sheng’s pedestrian screenplay doesn’t give them much more than passive-agressive banter to work with.

And while The White Storm kept a strong focus on its trio of stars, and took its time to portray their friendship (to better put it to the test later), Drug Lords dissolves into an ensemble of throwaway supporting characters, played by a talented cast, but written with maximum predictability. Watching Carlos Chan propose to an utterly underused Michelle Wai just before a police operation, or Michael Miu tell his policewoman wife to be careful just before a police raid, you just know that tragedy will follow mechanically (and take a shot every time a drug addict falls from a building). Karena Lam, whose comeback to movies seems to be comprised only only of hand-wringing wife roles, makes the most of of what she’s given, in a typically valiant performance that sadly remains lateral. Kent Cheng is a welcome sight os an old mobster, and Cherrie Ying is excellent as one of the titular drug lords, but both amount to extended cameos (a non-extended cameo by Gordon Lam is actually informative, telling us about the legality of bounties in Hong Kong).

Still, the film never bores: Herman Yau is on unfussy, efficient form, bringing welcome touches of humour and orchestrating, together with car stunt coordinator Gobi Ng, brazen final car chase, right into a subway station. These ten minutes of bravado, in contrast to the tense simmer of the previous eighty minutes, make Ng a serious rival to Chin Kar Lok in the car mayhem department. Too bad this show-stopper isn’t fueled by stronger dramatic and emotional stakes, and is followed by a tritely optimistic coda, far from the haunting uncertainty of past drug thrillers like Derek Yee’s Protégé or Johnnie To’s Drug War.

Long Story Short: An enjoyable Hong Kong thriller, The White Storm 2: Drug Lords is weighed down by shallow, mechanical writing but brought back to life by a show-stopping finale. **1/2

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7 Comments

  1. I’ve just got back from seeing this in Manchester, UK, and I agree the roles were under written. However the car chase through Central MTR station was eye-popping; I was torn between my mouth hanging open and inching myself back from the edge of my seat. Having lived in HK and used every MTR line at some point, seeing them orchestrate that kind of chase through a normally pedestrian-rammed public transport system was incredible. That and the completely brutal stunt work and CGI of people hitting pavements and stuntmen bouncing off bonnets, and honestly I was exhausted by the end. But in a good way!

    Reply
    • Yes, that was an impressive finale for sure. They actually built a replica of the station for the purpose of that car chase!

      Reply
      • You know what, I did wonder! I was thinking maybe the cars were CGI’d in but the people were directed to jump or scream or run, but a full-size set makes much more sense. :)

        Reply
  2. Andrew H

     /  July 19, 2019

    I’m sorry to say that I did not enjoy this film or Part 1. While the first White Storm came across as Heroic Bloodshed lite, the sequel felt like part of the bland Letter Storm series where everything is politically correct, panders to the government, and offers nothing in depth.

    That finale was way too overblown. I felt like they were trying to recreate the car joust scene in Bullet in the Head but without the drama, and an unneeded amount of dodgy CGI and Michael Bay caricature mayhem.

    Reply
    • Frankly, apart from the “drugs are bad” message (which anyway is universal), I didn’t feel this pandered much to the Mainland government – not that it was subversive either. The ABC Storm series always has Mainland lawmen popping up to provide a moral compass, but here it’s more Hong Kong amoral.
      Still, I can’t disagree that the finale lacks the drama to make it resonate.

      Reply
      • Andrew Hernandez

         /  July 20, 2019

        I’ve read several reviews, and I seem to be alone in my thoughts. Yes, I suppose it wasn’t as intrusive as the Letter Storm series, but I felt it was dangerously close.

        I’m in favor of a movie that says drugs are bad, but did Drug Lords have to be a preachy PSA combined with a Rodrigo Duterte campaign ad?

        Couldn’t the main focus of the film be good guys vs bad guys without the overwritten parts? Does the movie hate women? (No matter how much it’s been done before in Chinese cinema, it never gets less irritating)

        Drug War and Chasing the Dragon, this is not.

        Reply
        • Haha yeah women get short shrift, though that’s hardly new for Hong Kong thriller. Law Chi-Leung’s Kidnap was kind of a one-off, apparently.

          Reply

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