Wednesday, July 06, 2016

Cold War 2: Chow Yun-fat Joins the Franchise

Given the size of its budget and the scope of the operations it conducts, there will always be ambitious people eager to serve as the Hong Kong Police Department’s Commissioner. However, the intricate network of senior-junior relationships makes it tricky to govern. Former Deputy Commissioner M.B. Lee thought he was the man for the job, until his son was arrested for betraying the force, ushering the old man into early retirement. That would seem to be that, but as long as Lee has the Old Boys network and a mysterious scheming patron, he has hope in Longman Leung & Sunny Luk’s Cold War 2 (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

Cold War 1 ended with some conspicuous loose threads, including the hijacked emergency response van that remains missing, but the threatening call Commissioner Sean Lau Kit-fai receives would be the most pressing. It turns out there is a reason Joe Lee looks so smug in his prison cell. His accomplices have kidnapped Lau’s wife.

Since he is not a stickler for procedure, Lau is perfectly willing to drag Lee junior to the hand-off. The Commish has no intention of trading him for his wife, but that is how things shake out, with Lau handcuffed to a ticking bomb for extra added embarrassment. Obviously, the operation is an unsanctioned disaster, which turns the legislature into a pack of baying hounds. They are led by the curmudgeonly civil libertarian-ish Oswald Kan. The councilor will not pull his punches with Lau, but he is not a fan of the vested interests Lee represents either.

Although Lee did his duty and arrested his own son, he will turn on Lau during the hearings. Apparently, that was all part of the plan. Lee was not initially privy to the details of the conspiracy, but the high placed government figures backing his son will make him an offer he cannot refuse. Thus begins a three-handed intrigue, as Team Lau and Team Kan work at cross-purposes while trying to investigate Team Lee.

There is more closure in Cold War 2, but it definitely suggests this story has at least another chapter to unfold. The HK box office is sure to support a third installment, but assembling the big name cast again will be a challenge. Obviously, the biggest addition is Chow Yun-fat radiating gravitas as Kan. It follows in the tradition of Chairman of the Board role in Office, but it is arguably informed by Chow’s support for the Umbrella Movement’s student protestors. (When democracy opponents suggested he might be hurting his commercial appeal, Chow replied he’d simply make less money in that case, which is reason enough to go to CW2).

Aaron Kwok’s Lau is as smooth and steely as ever, while “Big Tony” Leung Ka-fai is still massively intense as the combustible M.B. Lee. Now that Eastwood primarily directs, Leung just might be the best squinter and glowerer working in film today. He and Eddie Peng Yuyan really do look like father and son in their brief scenes together. Peng continues to prove he has more chops than his early teen romances suggested. Unfortunately, Charlie Young’s deputy commissioner for PR gets dramatically short-changed this time around, but at least Janice Man gets a serious arc to work with as Kan’s protégé, Au Wing-yan.

There are several big, explosive action sequences in CW2, but Leung & Luk always use them in ways that advance the narrative. It certainly looks like they left plenty of odds and ends to be picked up later, but they steadily ratchet up the tension quite effectively. Altogether, it is a big, slick police thriller, very much in the Hong Kong action tradition. Enthusiastically recommended, Cold War 2 opens this Friday (7/8) in New York, at the AMC Empire.