Just in case you thought only Americans can make overly long, ridiculous blockbusters, here comes The White Storm raging in from Hong Kong, with some fantastic action sequences and a whole lot of boredom stretched out over a two-hour, ten-minute running time. It's a fitting metaphor for director Benny Chan's career- for every New Police Story or Shaolin he’s brought to the world he’s also done messes like City Under Siege, and even in his best work he ends up cramming ham-fisted drama between every action beat. The White Storm is no exception.
The story revolves around a trio of childhood friends who all end up becoming law enforcers. Tin (Ching Wan Lau) is the straight-man of the group and immediately set his sights on promotion, moving up ranks in no time at all. Wai (Nick Cheung) is a tough officer with a dark sense of humor- he’s had a hard life, but stuck together with his brothers though it all. Chow (Louis Koo) is an undercover agent who’s become sick of the job and how the police treat him, mostly because he has an eight-month pregnant wife and is tired of not being there for her. He’s about to do one last job and get out, and you can automatically assume how smoothly that’s going to run.
Sure enough, when things go haywire and the police try to pull their troops back at the last second, Chow gets pulled right back into the underworld. The police bosses decided that they wanted to shift their focus to the leader of the drug cartel instead. There’s only one problem- the leader is a crazy-haired madman named Eight-faced Buddha (Hoi-Pang Lo) that runs things out of Thailand. They soon set off to the land of Tony Jaa and Sagat for Chow’s real last job and once again, things go terribly. So terribly and with such a high body count, in fact, that it ends with what’s almost a direct reference to Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, complete with bodies falling into a river churning with crocodiles. It’s during this scene that you’ll be completely sucked into the film, as you see one hell of a (helicopter!) gun battle and one of the most singularly showstopping shots in a film.
But then the story picks up again, and oh, the melodrama. No one knows a thing about subtext here. When Chow laments about being a bad husband and worse father he does so audibly, in the middle of a hostage standoff involving said family members. Another speech in a hospital confirms the importance of friendship, told by a dying relative to the trio just when they needed to hear it. The film even has that kind of awful black and white flashback scene that takes us back to relive all those happy memories of just minutes ago!
But can Benny still shoot action? Without a doubt. There are some tremendously exciting shootouts here, one of which includes perhaps the finest (first?) use of spent shells as an offensive weapon in memory. The trio have some great camaraderie and they do their damnedest with a script that doesn’t shine a light on anyone else but the three, and devolves into a petty revenge story. It just can’t hold things together as things progress, and by the end there’s really no reason for our heroes to keep going after the drug lord when they could just simply walk away. There’s no real motivation for anything that happens, besides, of course, that ever-wonderful ballet of bullets.
Get through lots of weepy drama and you’ll definitely get your fill of that. The White Storm is more hit than miss, but there’s still a whole lot of miss to sit through. Thank the movie gods for crocodiles.