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The Stormriders (1998)
Director: Andrew Lau

review by Rob Marshall

With quest fantasy currently very fashionable again, as legions of fans anticipate the new Tolkien movie, this lavish genre production from Hong Kong is worth a look if you really can't wait for the big event. Instead of magic rings, though, this adventure presents swords as the definitive icons of power.
   Based on a popular manga series created by Ma Wing-shing, and ostensibly a prequel of sorts to the same director's A Man Called Hero, this superhero tale of romance and revenge has an indeterminate medieval setting with corrupt martial arts' clans and iconic warrior characters as primary figures in the future history of families and empires. Aaron Kwok (Saviour Of The Soul, 2000 A.D. Future Cops) and Ekin Cheng (the Young And Dangerous series) are its main stars, playing fantasy kung fu students Cloud and Wind, adopted sons by evil mandarin warlord Conquer (veteran of the 1970s Street Fighter movies, Sonny Chiba), who slew the boys' parents after learning from cursed prophet Mud Buddha that they might pose a threat to his reign or terror.
   Elemental powers are the basis of sorcery here, as Cloud needs the presence of water to generate spells of pure force, realised by brightly coloured digital visuals, which, it must be said, are largely unimpressive. Cleverly though, there's another character, Frost, who appears to freeze his opponents from colour into black and white, so not all of the effects shots are unimaginative or artistically redundant.
   Basically, the plot is a fairly typical rites of passage fairy tale adventure, during which temperamental champions Wind and Cloud must overcome their personal differences, and rivalry for the love of Charity (yes, you guessed - she's Conquer's only daughter!), to combine their respective strengths and powers into a fighting storm, in order to defeat the despotic villain.
   What makes Stormriders exceptional for this subgenre is the pace and energy of the action, and some amusingly witty design work - such as Cloud's hair, which, like many a four-colour comic book superhero, is blue!
   The Region 2 DVD release delivers excellent value with two discs for the price of one. The primary disc has a director's cut (130 minutes) in widescreen, Dolby Digital 5.1 sound in Cantonese with digitally re-mastered English subtitles, exclusive making-of short (23 minutes), and a special effects featurette (20 minutes), plus profiles of the characters, biographies of the cast and filmmaker, three trailers, stills gallery, animated menus. The second disc is a dubbed, full-screen, international version (90 minutes), which eliminates a couple of subplots (Cloud in exile for his obsessive behaviour, etc...) and summarises the childhood origins of the heroes via montage and flashback.
previously published online, VideoVista #33
The Stormriders
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