Storm Rider - Clash of Evils


Reviewed by: expression

January 30, 2010

Rating: four

Preface

I have never read Ma Wing Shing’s mega-hit comic “Fung Wan” before. But being a fellow
“Made in Hong Kong”, I did drool over Aaron Kwok 10 years ago when he played the
protagonist Cloud in the movie adaptation “Storm Riders” (of course I was very, very, very
small back then). Recently, the second movie installment “Storm Warriors” stirred a buzz,
so I browsed around for information. Out of the blue came “Storm Rider – Clash of Evils”
(henceforward CoE), an animated film produced in China.

Synopsis

This is a wuxia story set in ancient China. Wind and Cloud were the leading disciples of
Conqueror, head of the powerful “World Association”. The plot picks up where the live
action movie “Storm Riders” left off, when Wind and Cloud killed Conqueror in revenge for
their parents’ murder. Unfortunately, the battle roused the Kirin Demon in Wind, and the
sworn brothers fell off a cliff in the ensuing struggle. Meanwhile, an ambitious Ao Jue
from the Sword Worship Manor ganged with the deceitful Duan Lang, an expelled traitor
from the World Association, to track down Wind and Cloud for the Kirin Blood in their
bodies. This Kirin Blood was the priced ingredient to forge the supreme sword “Jue” – an
essential step towards Ao’s goal of avenging his family deaths and conquering the world.

Review

Story – 3/5
Before one evaluates anything, one should first place it in perspective of its purpose and
category. This is wuxia, which means fight, revenge, fight, love, fight, power, and fight.
Yes, the plot is shamelessly driven by the mysterious need to show-case a myriad of cool
martial arts. As there are only that many recyclable plot devices for the purpose, all wuxia
stories are by default cliché-ridden. In viewing wuxia, one should check reality at the door
before plunging into the fantastical escapee world. Do not expect any life-changing
message or applicable insight into reality. It is an exciting ride, but you will not be
inspired to sacrifice for the world walking out of the theatre. Hey, mental massage has its
place in our mundane society. Just don’t mistake it for spiritual food.

Within genre restrictions, CoE provides a compact story-line bursting with extreme
evilness and nobleness, with a bit of interspersed cute humor. You have the typical power
struggle involving the world’s most powerful organization, mighty noble warriors who are
dragged into the schemes of mighty wicked warriors, good people transforming into evil
beyond themselves and becoming a pain for other good people, revenge and regrettable
reflections following revenge, bloodshed and heartrending lamentations after bloodshed,
etc. YET, woven among the clichés and intense action are a number of scenes that do
strike a chord, which deserves commendation considering fighting made up at least 2/3 of
the whole film. In particular, I find the friendship and loyalty between the sworn brothers
finely portrayed. The beginning scenes where Cloud sacrificed himself to stop Wind and
Wind agonized over Cloud’s fate are deeply moving to me. The contrast in attitude
between the young and present Cloud to orphans was another nice touch. The growing
attachment between Cloud and the child gang brings a smile, and there was an oh-so-
romantic scene in the dandelion fields between Wind and Second Dream. Clichéd, but not
yet corny. These scattered heart-warming moments lifted the anime above the live action
movie which, despite my old love of Aaron and his figure, pales as nothing but a bunch of
pretty models posing.

Now Fung Wan fans may scream, “I knew they would slaughter the plot! X did not happen
and Y should be Z!” As a non-fan viewer, I’m concerned with effectiveness, not accuracy. It
may follow the original word by word and come across as cheesy as pizza, or it may slash
the original story yet pluck at my heart-strings. No matter. Comics and movies are two
very different media anyway. Here I only find that the heavy story-line ultimately proved to
be a burden. Overall, the story feels disjointed and unfocused. There are too many
subplots, characters, and side details, likely threaded out from the mega-story of the
original comic still running after a decade. Having only watched “Storm Riders”, I initially
had trouble sorting out the part on Ao and Duan, and the identity of that ominous
sleeves-waving guy at Wind’s Kirin ceremony remains a mystery. Even more baffling are
the concepts of Kirin blood, Kirin Demon, and the Blood Leech, which raised some serious
concerns on plot consistency. We learn the trivial history of why a minor character could
not marry a villain, yet have to accept that Wind and Second Dream fell in love following
minimal interaction. All these resulted in nice emotional moments here and there that do
not exactly connect to a smooth line.

Nonetheless, I find that the plot weaknesses did not significantly affect my viewing
pleasure, as they were generally overpowered by the lightning pace. Whenever something
puzzled me, something else caused me to aw or wow. Case in point: the abrupt
introduction of Nameless was bewildering, but then he started summoning the waves with
his poignant er-hu tune. Aw… wow… How this worked proved yet again that wuxia is a
heart-pumping affair to be enjoyed, not a life’s lesson to be learned.

Characters – 4/5
There are the usual flat stereotypes, but these are made up by the formidable appeal of
the Wind and Cloud duo. Amnesia obviously did Cloud a good turn. Little of his notorious
viciousness and extremism reared its head; as Wind commented in the story, Cloud had
changed, and for the better. He gained the ability to emote, learned to connect with people
without wasting much words, allowed a glimpse of raw innocence to shine through, all the
while showing off his unflinching muscles… and staunchness of course. How cool is that? I
like this Cloud, although it remains possible that fans may complain he is “not Cloud
enough”. As for Wind, fans will be relieved to know that he was still the perfect knight in
shining hair. This can easily turn boring or even annoying, but I’m pleased to report that
Wind was absolutely adorable here. He was so genuinely sad, and then so genuinely
happy, all for the sake of his sworn brother. He was so very kind and gentle when he was
normal, that it was so very heart-wrenching when he was not. And who would complain
about the generosity of this sweet boy in fighting topless all the time?

While all the fighting inevitably precluded in-depth character development, everyone fell
snugly in his/her place. There is no annoying overkill. Second Dream was iced with quiet
wisdom on top of her serenity, and Zhi Ning was cute as a button. Nameless was cool and
big-hearted as ever, and even Ao came across as pious and dignified. And there was this
cute comic relief Captain Handsome who sparked some of the best lines.

Art/Style – 4.5/5
I love the art and style of CoE. The tone was dead-on – exactly how I’d picture wuxia in
animation. The overall feel was poetic and at times epic, with atmospheric backgrounds
beautifully drawn. Some may complain about the dark color scheme, but I find it well
chosen. In fact, CoE is strongly reminiscent of the classic wuxia movies in the golden 90s
that I love so much – Swordsman II and New Dragon Inn comes to mind.

Wind and Cloud expressed excellent image design as epitomes of beautiful/sexy men –
kudos to both Ma the creator and the film artists. How ethereal was Wind with his flowing
hair and fair skin! I love his white robe with its fashionable turned-up collar, although he
went without it half the time. No complaints there; his long legs deserved to be seen!
Cloud had nice tights revealing his infamous biceps, and his blue crisp hair was cute and
sexy. And when he puts on his cloak, he gave the air of a regal conqueror. I’m not sure
how Zhi Ning was supposed to be like in the comic, but she was a sharp little lolita with a
cute haircut who looked surprisingly compatible with Cloud. Second Dream was the
blandest among the protagonists. Her pastel-colored costume was bleh, and her hair
made her look like a common village girl; definitely not stunning enough for Wind. I heard
she’s supposed to have a cool scar, which was absent here, so she became just an okay
pretty hanging around. That’s the catch for making the male protagonist too beautiful: it’s
tough to create a good match for him in appearance! As for the other characters, who can
forget the god-like figure of Nameless with his famous five o’clock? Others were fine
except Can Ji. Since when did she join Cirque de Soleil??

Now for the weakest part – the face. As in many other animations, inconsistency plagued
the facial delineation of many characters, most glaringly in Wind. I spotted at least three
distinct styles of how his face was drawn throughout the film. The upside, I guess, is that
no matter which style, his pretty face was always refined without being over effeminate.
Influence from Japanese anime was evident, especially for female characters. The best
drawn and most uniquely wuxia is Nameless. I wonder if his five o’clock helped?

Animation – 4/5
Again, we have to place the film within its category. This is no cutting-edge 3-D
technology galore, but a classic 2-D animation well done. Animation was smooth and on
par with Japanese anime; the level attained is worthy of a movie ticket or DVD purchase.
Obviously lots of thought and energy were put into the choreography. We get to enjoy no-
slack action design and smooth execution. Painstaking hand-drawn movement was
combined with computer graphics to a highly satisfactory effect. My favorite was the fight
sequence in the pavilion by the lake showcasing sound control of the waves. Classic wuxia!

One note on the violence level. This is quite a bloody animation in line with typical wuxia
tv series, but there are no direct shots of brutal deaths. Thank goodness they realize that
man-slaughtering by our pretty boys is only cool in the mind, not in the eyes.

Voice – 2.5/5
Voice-acting is, em, a major weakness of the film. Instead of going the Japanese
professional way, the producers followed the questionable Hollywood trend of getting
movie stars to voice major characters. The result is an unfortunate mixed bag of colorful
marbles in the mouth. Among the Mandarin stars, only Han Xue’s Second Dream deserved
a nod. Get Nicholas Tse to pose for a poster, you get nice photos. Get him to star in a
mandarin movie, you get reasonable acting enhanced by life-saving voice over. But get
him to voice Cloud, and in MANDARIN?? What did you think you will get, crash-landing
star power my dear? With the combination of a fledgling pitch, meek tone, frustrating
accent (alright, everyone has an accent, but his was a painful one), and an obvious
consciousness of all of these resulting in mumbling like marbles in the mouth, I eventually
realized that the only positive out of this exercise was that Cloud was taciturn. Suddenly
Richie Ren’s lackluster performance as Wind seemed a blessing, although the professional
voices of Ao and Nameless quickly reminded me that it was still sub-par. Oh and the kids’
voices were adorable. Basically the whole deal was a fabulous lot of professional voice
acting for minor characters ruined by sorry star performances for the two most important
characters. Aiya.

The Cantonese protagonists fared better. Raymond Lam provided a nice deep voice that
suited Cloud perfectly. Whoever that girl is, she made a sweet Zhi Ning with very
expressive intonation overshadowing Whoever Else’s mediocre Second Dream. I cannot
decide on Hins Cheung’s Wind. Poor Hins has a soothing voice pleasant to the ear, which is
great for a gentle scholar in white robe. Alas! But it was not meant to be, for Wind
evidently didn’t like staying in his scholarly robes very often (you get my point!). Fine, the
overall effect is that the Cantonese protagonists were much more reasonable than the
Mandarin ones. Plus Juno Mak pulled a surprisingly good performance as Ao. Maybe the
producers sensed this, so they attempted to close the gap by throwing in some real bad
Cantonese voices for other characters. The girl who played Ice Shadow managed to catch
my ear with her maddeningly horrible voice with the few lines she had, and she didn’t even
have the excuse of poor Nic. Her way of speech oddly reminded me of Lee Lai Shan, the
respectable wind-surfer who won the first Olympics gold medal for Hong Kong but was
regrettably ungifted in speech. The kids’ voices also took a wrong turn in Cantonese. The
young Cloud sounded like… marbles in the mouth. Entered Di Long’s Nameless like Judge
Bao – very commanding, very stately, very melodramatic, very ridiculous. It was like
hearing Cantonese opera singing suddenly breaking out as Invincible Asia was pinning Ren
Woxing down with his needles. Ouch. Huh?

Overall, the best voice for both versions was… drums… Captain Handsome! No, he was
not a major character. Yes, he was a very good comic relief. What a relief.

Music – 4.5/5
Music is, yay, a major strength of the film. It was comparable to any big budget movies out
there. The epic score, flawlessly performed by a blessed orchestra, was a critical
enhancement to the overall atmosphere. The pacing was right on and carried the ups and
downs of the mood perfectly. In fact, now I wonder if my small heart swelled up mainly in
response to those pounding notes that came at the moment Nic’s Cloud cried, “Wind, I’ll
go down with you!!!”

The title theme song was fantastic as well. Everything clicked – melody, lyrics,
arrangement, and singing by Richie Ren. I like it so much I did a cover for it on youtube.
Should people find my singing terrible, I hope they will feel the urge to listen to the
original.

So we are stuck in a painful dilemma: to mute or not to mute? After ridiculing the voices
left and right, I’d strongly recommend leaving the sound on. The top-notch music does
make up far and beyond for the vocal failures, plus they only talked for less than 1/3 of
the film anyway. Wait, actually the Cantonese version did feature tons of “Aah!” and “Hey!
Hor!” during fights. Extra efforts!

Conclusion

Why, am I not a windbag granny? Concluding from ALL of the above, I confess I love this
animated film despite its many flaws. This is the kind of movie that took my breath away
at the time of viewing. Criticisms only start to float up as I steady my thoughts to write a
review. Doesn’t the value of a movie lie in the actual sitting experience? While 4.5 and 5
are reserved for those rare mind-changers, this one is a solid entertainer.

Overall Rating: 4/5

Epilogue

Now that I am done, let me break the bad news: most professional critics out there
disagree with my rating. They will tell you that the story is poorly crafted, the characters
pathetically clichéd, the animation not 3-D, the drawing imperfect, and that Expression
watched too few movies to know a good one. On the last point they are probably correct.

Do you know that fuzzy feeling of suddenly discovering a toy that you missed in your
childhood dreams? One becomes overjoyed, dances around, and shows it to everyone.
Most of them smile with you, but that serious toy factory professional snorts and declares
it below art standard.

No matter. I enjoy this toy and cherish it with gratitude. It helps knowing that this film
took 5 years and $10 million US to make. All this time and effort paid off – I never
dreamed of a Chinese anime of this quality before. Unfortunately I heard that the Chinese
box office, though fair, wasn’t good enough to break even, which will probably dampen
investment interests in similar future projects. I was so moved and saddened that I set
myself to write (and complete) this review – know that I’ve only completed one other
review before, on another childhood love. This is certainly no resume towards my
professionalism, but it does bear witness to my feelings.

Heartily recommended.


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