Imagine the scene: Hong Kong International Airport attempts a massive evacuation when a high-speed train full of missiles crashes into a terminal. Shown in slow motion, a nuclear explosion tears the airport apart and blows it across the sky like a mushroom.
Since the beginning of Shock wave 2, the message of this Hong Kong Chinese blockbuster is clear: the stakes are high and the explosions will be high. It’s soon clear that the story will be complicated as well, as a voiceover introduces an alternate narrative and looks back on the earlier career of its protagonist: demining expert Poon Shing Fung (Hellish affairs‘Andy Lau). What begins as a disaster film becomes a disaster prevention film.
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Co-written and directed by Shock wave‘s Herman Yau, the sequel is already a hit in China, now surpassing RMB 1 billion ($ 155 million) for more than double the 2017 original (it’s also currently in theaters in the United States. , Australia and New Zealand). Still, while the film is set in the world of mine clearance, it’s just a name sequel. Also back as a producer, Lau plays an entirely new character. A series of tense scenes inform us that he’s generous and good at his job – he’s even kind to cats. But his morale is challenged when he loses most of his leg in an explosion, then falls into a coma. Waking up to find he is suspected of terrorism by his former police colleagues, he also has amnesia and turns to his ex-girlfriend, Poon Ling (Ni Ni), for help filling the gaps. But it is not an easy task, and terrorists continue to target Hong Kong monuments.
Draw from films as diverse as Armageddon and Eternal Sunshine of the Flawless Spirit, the ambitious screenplay addresses themes such as loyalty, sacrifice, consistency and memory. One plot veers towards fantasy sci-fi, but it’s presented entirely seriously. It’s an overworked concept, visibly corrected by flashbacks and exhibition dialogues.
While suggesting that Poon Shing Fung is unfairly demoted after his accident, the storyline seems torn between upholding the rights of people with disabilities and moralizing about obedience to authorities. There is also the issue of a non-disabled actor portraying a character who acquires a disability. Lau was a goodwill ambassador for the 2008 Paralympic Games, but his cast – or perhaps rather his character’s story arc – has sparked controversy as the debate over disabled roles rages on.
Lau has been called Tom Cruise in Asia, and it’s easy to see why. He’s a sympathetic presence and long-term box office draw in big-budget action thrillers. In addition, he often plays against much younger women. At least Ni Ni, 27 years his junior, is seen as more than love interest, eventually becoming chief inspector of the Counterterrorism Response Unit. But their romance, mainly conveyed during a sentimental montage on a saccharin score, is superficial at best.
The action is the real star here. While some potential tension is undermined by the opening reveal, there are plenty of spectacular sets along the way. Visual effects are used frequently and are compelling enough to create an impression of spectacle and drama. Each bomb disposal scene has its own inventive twist, shocking, or dark enough to make you scream out loud – you can see why it played well in theaters. Even outside of perilous situations, visual interest is essential: two characters discuss a plan in parachuting, for no apparent reason.
For all its intriguing confusion, Shock wave 2 delivers two key elements it promises: escape and explosions.