SHOCK WAVE 2 (2020) review

Three years after the success of Shock Wave, Herman Yau is back with a thematic sequel that doubled the first film’s budget and has now tripled its box-office take. Andy Lau is back in the lead – inevitably, in a different role – as Poon Sing-fung, a heroic bomb disposal expert of the EOD (Explosive Ordinance Disposal Bureau) who loses part of his leg in an explosion. Fitted with a prosthetic leg and having gone through an extensive and triumphant reeducation, he fully expects to return to the job to which he devoted himself body and soul, but is instead offered desk jobs or PR positions, as his superiors don’t want to take the risk of returning a disabled officer to the field. Enraged at the rejection, and at a society which undervalues the disabled, he quits the force, severing his relationships to his girlfriend Pong Ling (Ni Ni), an officer of the counter-terrorism unit, as well as his best friend and colleague Tung Cheuk-man (Lau Ching Wan) and their team. Cut to five years later, Poon is seen planting a bomb at a fancy reception; dozens of people die in the ensuing explosion, and he’s found unconscious at the crime scene. When he awakes, he has amnesia and can’t even remember who he is; the police suspects him of being a part of the terrorist organization known as ‘Vendetta’, responsible for a slew of bombings in the past months in Hong Kong. With only fragmented memories coming back to him, but convinced he is innocent, Poon escapes and tries to uncover the truth.

Herman Yau is now to Hong Kong what Roland Emmerich has been to the United States: a fetichistic destroyer of landmarks. After collapsing the Cross-Harbour Tunnel in Shock Wave and destroying the Central MTR station in The White Storm 2: Drug Lords, he opens Shock Wave 2 with the annihilation of the Hong Kong International Airport. And indeed, this is a sequel that makes sure to up the ante on most aspects of the original: more action, more destruction, a more convoluted plot, and even a bit more relationship trouble. It’s all wildly entertaining: action director Nicky Li Chung Chi (replacing Dion Lam who handled the first film) has crafted a series of furious action scenes in which the resourceful Poon circumvents his disability to beat his assailants: a hospital chase where, deprived of his prosthetic leg, he hops, rolls and slips his way in the crossfire of terrorists and the police, makes Li a frontrunner for the Hong Kong Film Award for best action directing. And as in the first film, the bomb disposal scenes are varied and exciting: the pick of the bunch is an eye-watering stand-off when Lau Ching Wan’s Tung attempts to disarm a bombs while being mercilessly shot at by a sniper. With  Benny Chan gone, Johnnie To scarce, and Dante Lam now giving the government of the People’s Republic of China expensive pedicures, it’s good to see Herman Yau remains as a purveyor of wild Hong Kong action (among other genres, of course).

The plot is equally wild, but that’s less of an asset. Returning screenwriter Erica Li (now co-writing with Eric Lee) relentlessly jumps the shark, from shamelessly cheap tricks (just as the opening protracted mega-explosion is over, we learn it isn’t for real) to a series of plot twists so ludicrous, one has to at least admire their brazenness, even while bemoaning the constant, heavy flashbacks they require. But this heady brew of dime-store psychology, high-strung melodrama and puzzling pseudo-science on memory wouldn’t be a problem per se, if the film didn’t rely so heavily on an utterly absurd character arc (head over to the bottom of the page for a spoiler). This robs the film of much of its emotional impact, as does the perfunctory approach to – and lack of chemistry in – the film’s main relationships: between Poon and Pong, and between Poon and Tung. Still, Andy Lau carries the film with absolute bravado. He still refuses to age, but he keeps maturing impressively. His intense commitment, both physically and emotionally, helps sell (or at least make tolerable) even the most ludicrous plot turns. Lau Ching Wan is somewhat underutilized in a static role that often stays lateral to the plot; had his character been merged with Philip Keung’s (a police detective doggedly chasing Poon), there might have been more sparks in this star match-up (it’s only their third time sharing the screen in prominent roles) – not to belittle Keung, who’s rock-solid as ever. Ni Ni is excellent, being given much more than the ‘needy girlfriend’ role Song Jia got saddled with in the first film, and more than holding her own next to her seasoned co-stars.

Long Story Short: Completely ludicrous and wildly entertaining, Shock Wave 2 suffers from absurd plot turns but features some of the best action of 2020, and a superb Andy Lau. ***

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  1. Here in the UK, the first film was released under the title “Shock Wave Tunnel” for some reason… In my review, I said the same things you did about this one – the script was full of OTT silliness and convoluted plotting but ended up enjoyable fun!

    • Haha, then we can expect the sequel to be released as “Shock Wave Airport”, or perhaps the even catchier “Shock Wave Financial Center”.
      Well brace yourself for the sequel… It makes the first film look like cinéma vérité.


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