Friday, 22 May 2015

Storm Riders (1998)

I have a fundamental aversion to the idea of 'destiny'.  If events are predestined, then our choices and actions aren't just meaningless, they're not even our choices and actions: they were chosen for us, long before.

I'm also averse to the use of the idea in fiction.  I mean obviously, the events of a film are predestined, what with there being a script, and such, but I'm talking here about predestination being used inside the narrative world.  Characters talking about it, I mean.

And so Storm Riders gets a bit of a black mark from me right at the get go, when it becomes obvious that the whole thing is going to revolve around a prophecy / predestined outcome.  In short: Powerful warlord Conquer will raise up two disciples named Wind and Cloud, and enjoy ten years of triumph as he does so.  But then the two will join together and become the storm that overcomes him.

The film doesn't actually reveal the second sentence of the prophecy until about an hour into the run time, but seriously: when a prophecy begins "X and Y will ensure your power for the next ten years", what's your first guess as to how it will end?  Not that the film tries to disguise this from the audience, what with Wind and Cloud turning out to be the sons of two men that Conquer murdered.

Aside: I like the literally translated names in the subtitles for this.  They're sometimes a bit off ("Seedy Sword" doesn't have the connotations it was probably meant to), but they're mostly evocative of who people are within the story.

Of course, once Conquer belatedly learns the second half of the prophecy, he tries to engineer the deaths of Wind and Cloud.  And if you suspect that those very actions are what will drive them to turn against him and thus ensure that destiny is fulfilled, well ... you've probably seen a film before.

This is not to say that Storm Riders is without narrative surprises.  The final form of the two young men's triumph is probably not what you'd expect (it's certainly not in keeping with typical western story beats).

Storm Riders is not going to be to all tastes.  It is very much a supernatural martial arts film, very different stylistically from more realistic fare like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon or Once Upon A Time in China.  Yes, I did say "realistic": those may be wire fu films, but the action sequences are largely highly exaggerated versions of real martial arts.  Storm Riders places not such limits on itself.  Astral projection, fireballs, people ripping off their own arms to power magical abilities - all this and more is on display.

While far from a flawless film (as you can see, I had several issues with it), this is not a film without attractions.  Sonny Chiba is excellent as Conquer, for instance.  There are some imaginatively staged fight scenes, as well - you just have to accept that you're watching a mythological Chinese superhero movie.

And really, if "a mythological Chinese superhero movie" sounds at all like a thing you'd enjoy, then you should check this out.

A final note: if pretty, pretty men are your thing, it sure has you covered.

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