Film Review: Exciting Chinese Actioner “Shock Wave 2”

shock wave 2 movie poster one sheetI watch a lot of international action films. Hollywood might have a visual effects company around every corner, but it turns out that a lot of overseas production groups have their own amazing vf/x companies ready to work on films outside of the USA. Foreign films also have a different sensibility and different approach to the storyline, often along with an interestingly biased cultural skew. No question, seeing how other countries portray Americans holds up a sometimes very awkward mirror to our own Hollywood productions, wherein people from other nations are too often portrayed as incompetent, greedy, or clueless.

As much as China is an important region for American filmmakers with its billion filmgoers, we don’t get to see too many of the overseas films here. One reason: Too many people are intimidated or befuddled by subtitles, leaving the foreign language subtitled films to the art-house crowd. A French period drama set in the 1800s and focused on bedroom politics? That’ll make it to the local Landmark theater with subtitles in English. But a contemporary Chinese, Russian, Indian, or Brazilian action or suspense film? Fugetaboutit. That’s one big reason that streaming services like Netflix are game-changers: They tend to have a lot of foreign films of every genre if you dig around and search for them.

Last year I had a chance to stream the 2018 Chinese action thriller “Shock Wave”, starring uber-popular Chinese action star Andy Lau as bomb disposal expert and undercover Hong Kong cop J.S. Cheung. A group of terrorists has planted bombs and taken over Hong Kong’s massive Cross-Harbour Tunnel, and it’s up to Cheung to save the day. It’s a fun, interesting, and action-filled movie with visual effects that are just as good as the latest Mission Impossible or Fast and Furious installment.

The new film is ostensibly a sequel, hence the name “Shock Wave 2”, but while it again stars Andy Lau, there’s very little actual continuity between the films. In fact, this time he plays former bomb disposal officer Poon Shing-Fung. This time, however, Shing-Fung is suffering from amnesia and is unsure whether he’s a terrorist or an undercover policeman trying to unmask the terrorists. The planned crime is audacious too; an atomic explosion that will destroy Hong Kong International Airport.

Poon Shing-Fung (Lau) starts the film as a bomb disposal expert, but when he is maimed by an unexpected bomb explosion, he is sidelined by the police department and, furious, rage-quits the force. Men and women of action, after all, aren’t really suited for desk jobs or teaching. It’s a surprisingly universal trope, and it works well in this film. Three years later, he’s found, unconscious, at the site of a horrific terrorist bombing incident in downtown Hong Kong: Has he become a terrorist, or is he secretly on a long-term undercover operation to unveil the terrorists?

When he wakes up without any memory due to “Post Traumatic Amnesia” he’s in a race to find his own backstory, remember his relationship with beautiful fellow officer Pong Ling (Ni Ni), his former fiancée, his formerly tight friendship with bomb disposal expert Tung Cheuk Man (Ching Wan Lau). What’s his relationship with head villain Ma Sai Kwan (Kwan-Ho Tse)? Most importantly, Shing-Fung has to figure out whether he’s aligned with the terrorists, angry at the way the police department discarded him once he was maimed, or is he working with the force to try and unmask and diffuse the terrorist threat?

publicity still from "Shock Wave 2" with Ni Ni and Andy Lau
Ling (Ni Ni) and Shing-Fung (Andy Lau), from “Shock Wave 2”

Think you can predict the storyline? You’ll be surprised, it’s not as you would expect, and there are some interesting twists that will surprise the viewer. In particular, there’s a surprising level of cynicism about the police department and Hong Kong (e.g., Chinese) government that are not what you would expect from a Chinese blockbuster movie.

Most importantly, this is an action film and the scenes zoom along with excitement and verve. Nothing happens as you would expect as director Herman Yau does his best to avoid all the most tedious clichés and tropes of the genre. The fight scenes are impressive and the surprisingly many explosions are eminently comparable to the best Hollywood vf/x studio work. There’s even a thrilling scene that takes place on the bullet train, shades of 1996’s great Mission: Impossible high-speed train battle.

All in all, I really enjoyed this latest action film from Andy Lau, even if it was the least sequel-ish sequel I’ve seen in many years. The visual effects are top-notch, the characters are all interesting and engaging, and the action scenes are terrific. This is a film worth searching to find on your favorite streaming network. Start with the first “Shock Wave” film (it’s just a bit better than this sequel overall), then enjoy “Shock Wave 2”. With subtitles. You can manage it. 🙂

A Dad At The Movies Note: There are a lot of intense action scenes that leave people maimed or dead. It can be a bit of a visceral punch in the gut, making this a film not suitable for anyone younger than late teens, and even then, only those who have watched plenty of tentpole action films. It might just be better for you parents to watch it after the kids go to sleep, actually…

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