Tuesday, January 02, 2018

Shock Wave: Andy Lau Defuses Bombs

You can’t use the term “bridge and tunnel people” derisively in Hong Kong. At this point, you must be pretty lucky and well off to have a nice place and Kowloon. From there, the Cross-Harbour Tunnel is the only practical way to get to Causeway Bay and the Hong Kong Island business district. Unfortunately, a villainous madman has wired the bridge to explode and he holds a grudge against the cop who stands the best chance of defusing it in Herman Yau’s Shock Wave (trailer here) which releases today on DVD.

Typically, Superintendent JS Cheung’s bomb squad work is short but intense. He cuts the right wire and its Miller Time. He cuts the wrong one and he wakes up at the Pearly Gates. So far, so good. However, Cheung was briefly loaned to the major crimes unit to go undercover with Peng Hong’s gang, because of their frequent use of explosive devices. Cheung helps bust most of them, after a bloody and protracted heist attempt descends into utter chaos, but Peng gets away.

Six months later, Cheung is reinstated, promoted, and seriously dating school teacher Carmen Li. Suddenly, Peng is also back, apparently financed by shady Southeast Asian interests. After testing Cheung with a few warm-up bombs, Peng takes the Cross-Harbour hostage, wiring it up with enough explosives to cause a total collapse. He also has hundreds of hostages, including an off-duty cop.

Shock Wave starts with a bang worthy of Lau’s massively explosive cop thriller Firestorm, but the second act falls into a repetitive pattern, basically focusing on Cheung’s efforts to defuse each new device, while Peng ominously chuckles up his sleeve. However, the last half hour or so returns the film to its combustible form, even eclipsing the earlier bedlam. Yet, throughout it all, Lau’s megawatt star presence shines through. It is easy to see why he is still the most bankable worldwide male movie star, whose name isn’t Salman Khan. Lau also develops some appealingly complicated chemistry with Song Jia’s Carmen Li. It is a surprisingly awkward and honest relationship, which makes it much more believable than most cop movie romances.

Jiang Wu opts for the quiet slow-burn as Peng, but he certainly projects a fiercely single-minded drive and a stone-cold ruthlessness. However, Philip Keung and Babyjohn Choi steal a number of scenes as Cheung’s major crimes colleague on the brink of a nervous breakdown and the young cop among the hostages.

Yau is an old hand when it comes to action movies, so you can count on him to not be stingy with the explosions. Indeed, it is not called Shock Wave in English for no reason. Things happen in this film that will stun viewers who only watch focus-grouped Hollywood movies, but it all makes perfect sense if you know your HK-Chinese language cinema. Recommended for Lau fans and anyone who digs ticking time-bomb movies, Shock Wave is now available on DVD.