Shock Wave is a terrific spectacle of a film that harkens back to the classic 90’s action thrillers any genre fan loves. There is a lot to love about this film and the fact it knows when to throw in a bit of tragedy and not be as stereotypical as you would imagine—a wonderful surprise of a movie.
JS Cheung (Andy Lau), a Superintendent in Explosive Ordnance Disposal Bureau (EOD) of Hong Kong Police Force, went undercover seven years ago into the gang led by the most-wanted crime boss Peng Hong (Wu Jiang). Cheung successfully uprooted the gang and arrested a few robbers, including Hong’s younger brother Biao. However, Hong was on the loose, and he swore he’d be back for revenge. Seven years have passed, and Hong kick starts his plan – a series of bomb attacks have sparked fear among Hong Kong citizens. Cheung must put Hong behind bars to maintain law and order, and he is ready to sacrifice his life to fight a tough battle with the ruthless bomber.
What at first glance comes across as a very good 90s action thriller throwback of a film. Shock Wave reveals itself to have a far sight more substance than you would imagine, as the police and press focus on the hostage situation and the risk of lives. Those who are far too wealthy begin to count the cost of destruction and wonder how they can reap the benefits. This unexpected side of the film allows us to see how some focus more on the financial side than the human cost and as the pressure mounts on the police to care less for the hostages and save the tunnel instead, a great dynamic is created.
The characters are a bit in the standard action stereotypes as Andy Lau’s JS Cheung is the tough but by the book. A good guy who will do everything he can to save as many as possible while also making the big picture decisions heartbreakingly at the same time. Lau is committed and carries the film very well as we watch him battle through challenges set upon him. Shock Wave fleshes him out enough, but in doing so, he seemingly forgot to do the same to the rest of the supporting cast.
Wu Jiang’s Hung Kai Pang is a tad more cookie-cutter as the villain of the piece. However, he is still effective as the man who will carry out the orders of those who pay him the most money, chances where his character could be expanded upon are slightly wasted, especially in the case of his scenes with his reformed brother. While it would have been better for him to do just a little more to be menacing, instead of just carrying out killing himself and the odd thuggish behaviour as he waits for phone calls, he fulfils his side of the bargain. Shock Wave would have been enhanced by a few more memorable villains to focus our hate upon other than Pang and the wealthy tunnel owner.
Some subplots within the film make little sense and are only included, seemingly to give Cheung a fuller character with the inclusion of his love interest and the danger she is placed in because of who Cheung is. That said, it is harmless and allows us to see how good and rationale Cheung is when stuck in specific situations, as his methodology here is a far sight different from what we see earlier in the film with another hapless character.
So there is a method to all of the madness. In truth, it merely brings us another solid action scene, so really, there are minor complaints as these are all just scenes that you would expect in a film like this, and as long as they entertain instead of dragging the entire piece to a halt it is a win-win. By giving us a multitude of bomb disposal scenes, we become more engaged.
Characters have successes in their work as they remove the danger, but Shock Wave isn’t afraid to let us see what happens when they don’t or can’t succeed. These moments pull you in further to the film as they come unexpectedly as you are sure a situation will be resolved. When it doesn’t, it leaves you in shock, just as the characters that Yau pans around to. For a two hour film that has no right being that long, it paces itself to perfection.
Thankfully for a film full of action sequences, they all have a purpose, even if that purpose is a tad stretched for one or two. They make sense, and most importantly, characters make sensible decisions during them. It is quite rewarding to see something like that in an action flick. If something big and explosive happens (pardon the pun), then at least have a payoff or vital reason for it. Here in Shock Wave, we get those, and it allows us as an audience to enjoy the film all the more.
For those who love their action, the final act will be like a party for them. Not only do we have absolute chaos in that tunnel as both sides make their much-anticipated collision, we also get some quite terrific and truly wonderful effects. Shock Wave is a film that isn’t afraid to show you destruction and revels when it does so. This is a disaster movie (albeit human manufactured one) done right.
Shock Wave is available via Chinese Cinema Season’s “Hong Kong, Reimagined” curated section.
Festival Website: www.chinesefilm.uk
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