Director – Herman Yau – 2020 – Hong Kong – Cert. N/C 15 – 120m
A former bomb disposal expert suspected of a terrorist atrocity must prevent a terrorist organisation from destroying the Hong Kong International Airport and taking numerous innocent lives in the process – now available to rent online in the new Chinese Cinema Season 2021 in the UK & Ireland as part of the Hong Kong, Reimagined strand until Wednesday, May 12th
If you’ve seen Shock Wave (Herman Yau, 2017) you’ll know that a sequel with Andy Lau reprising his character wouldn’t be possible. Both director and star clearly wanted to capitalise on the first film, however, so they’ve simply dumped character names and most of what happened in the first film, reinvented the main character and started all over again with a completely different story. This has the effect of making the audience feel that they’re seeing another film in the series but at the same time seeing something that’s brand new, not at all a carbon copy.
Except that in the broadest outline it IS a carbon copy: once again, Andy Lau plays an heroic member of the Hong Kong Police’s Explosive Ordnance Disposal Bureau (EOD) with Philip Keung as a friend and colleague in the force, this time round named Lee Yiu Sing, while the plot involves the potential huge bombing of an important Hong Kong landmark – here the Hong Kong International Airport which is blown up at the start only for a voice-over to explain that this terrorist atrocity has been prevented thanks to one man.
So, the EOD’s top two bomb disposal men Poon Shin Fung (Andy Lau) and Tung Cheuk Man (Sean Lau Ching Wan) have to rescue a man and his lover who are tied up with synchronised explosives. The pair released and believing the operation complete, Poon inadvertently trips a third bomb and loses the lower half of one leg in the process. Despite physically training himself to peak fitness with his new prosthetic leg, he’s refused return to active EOD duty, takes it badly and later quits the force in disgust.
Five years later, he’s involved in an incident with terrorist organisation Vendetta leading to numerous fights with hotel security before a bomb goes off in a hotel swimming pool. He recovers in hospital with complete memory loss and the police believing him a terrorist. The one person who believes him innocent is his ex-girlfriend Pong LIng (Ni Ni), a cop now turned undercover ops organiser who wants him to infiltrate Vanguard and prevent their upcoming planned atrocity from succeeding. Vanguard mastermind Ma Sai Kwan (Tse Kwan-ho) is a suitably smooth, white-haired villain.
As well as the previous Shock Wave, the film also borrows heavily and successfully from Western action cinema. The central protagonist trying to recover his memory and personal identity is straight out of the Bourne Identity franchise. There are gender-reversed elements of Nikita (Luc Besson, 1990) with the hero coaxed into the role of an undercover operative in a larger picture that he doesn’t really comprehend and a couple of terrific fight sequences which, while they employ Chinese martial arts moves, feel like something out of James Bond – one in a hotel lift (promptly locked down by the building’s security) to rival that in Diamonds Are Forever (Guy Hamililton, 1971) and one in which the hospitalised Poon, metal (including handcuffs) having been removed from his person to enable an MRI scan, escapes his guards leading to an extended hospital fight sequence reminiscent of the one in the superior, suspenseful and soulful Hard Boiled (John Woo, 1992).
The pace is relentless and the film will satisfy those who want non-stop action, but the plot is ridiculously convoluted and some of the smaller fight / stunt sequences earlier in the film impress more than the bigger, computer effects-laden ones later on. Long gone are the days when Jackie Chan dangled for real off a helicopter rope ladder thousands of feet in the air in Police Story 3 Supercop (Stanley Tong, 1992); when Pong Ling dangles from a rope ladder here, you know it’s somewhere in a studio and not for real. Somewhere around the middle, one stops caring about the characters as action sequences are piled fast and furious on one another, something not really the case the first film. Yet parts of Shock Wave 2 are so frenetic and inventive that it’s easy to forgive it.
If it’s bigger and even more action-packed than it’s predecessor, the efficient Shock Wave 2 seems to have lost something in the process.
Shock Wave & Shock Wave 2 are now available to rent online in the new Chinese Cinema Season 2021 in the UK & Ireland as part of the Hong Kong, Reimagined strand until Wednesday, May 12th. Also available as part of a two film bundle with a debate on To destroy or rebuild Hong Kong on Wednesday, May 22nd (limited availability – booking required).