A pacy, well-edited actioner with Cambodian terrorists running amok in Hong Kong, “Purple Storm” is a surprisingly dark and gritty slalom ride by helmer Teddy Chen, whose “Mission: Impossible” rip-off, “Downtown Torpedoes,” was one of the more breathless procedurals of 1997. Pic is at least one set piece too long in its second half, and stints on character development of one of its key leads, but with some fine-tuning and the right marketing could cut a niche hole in Western markets.
The movie, with a reported tab of HK$30 million ($4 million), high by local standards, is H.K. major Media Asia’s second high-profile outing in the past nine months. Less high-concept than the previous “Gen-X Cops,” and shorter on leavening humor, it’s far better fitted to the international action market, with solid production values and a measure of psychology not dampening the general leaps of imagination that mark Hong Kong action cinema. Pic was a moderate success locally, taking some HK$10 million ($1.5 million).
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Asian movie buffs will note several plot and character parallels with the South Korean blockbuster “Shiri,” itself partly influenced by Hong Kong models. But “Storm” has its own feel — less glossy and more down-and-dirty, with no visible signs of its convoluted production history.
A brief intro in 1979 Cambodia sets the background, with Khmer Rouge warriors sent away for training and told to do better next time. Nineteen years later, on the eve of Hong Kong’s new airport opening, some terrorists hit a Korean cargo ship and leave behind Todd Nguyen (Daniel Wu), a U.S.-educated Cambodian-Chinese, with total amnesia and three password-locked computer disks.
Urged on by anti-terrorist cop Ma Li (Emil Chow), criminal psychiatrist Shirley Kwan (a Canto-dubbed Joan Chen) reckons she can reach into Todd’s subconscious and turn him against his comrades, headed by the loony Soong (Kam Kwok-leung). While a push-me/pull-you battle rages in Todd’s confused mind, Soong and ruthless female sidekick Guan Ai (Josie Ho) plan to release a deadly chemical weapon, Purple Storm, on an unknown target.
Most of the pic’s pulp psychology is centered on Todd’s divided loyalties, which brings an added frisson to at least one action sequence (a dockland shootout) and powers the finale, in which he’s brought face to face with Guan Ai. Otherwise, the set pieces are fast and edgy, powered by Peter Kam’s thundering score and sensibly edited by Kong Chi-leung. Arthur Wong’s lensing is effectively rugged and downbeat instead of super-glossy; effects are reasonable.
In an industry dominated by boyish-looking leads, Hong Kong singer Chow is interesting casting as the lead cop, though he’s shortchanged by the script, which doesn’t build him up as an equal combatant with Kam’s creepy Cambodian terrorist. Frisco-born Wu is solid as the conflicted, icy Todd, and Ho an electric presence as the ruthless femme terrorist. Chen’s shrink is essentially a guest role.