P Storm (PG13)
Starring Louis Koo, Kevin Cheng, Raymond Lam
Directed by David Lam
After three previous letter-titled Storm crime thrillers — Z, S and L Storm — Louis Koo's William Luk, the crusading investigator rooting out corruption within the Hongkong government and civil service like a relentless zealot, finally ends up in prison.
Which means that compared to the frenetic crime-busting pace out in the dirty streets and swanky offices of the earlier flicks, this inmate instalment looks as if everybody slows down in one place and is taking a staycation.
To be precise, ICAC (Independent Commission Against Corruption) main hero Luk went behind bars briefly in 2018's L Storm after he was framed. But this time, he goes undercover for a longer stay in a communal cell — it looks like a home-away-from-home army bunk with neat beds and comfy pajamas — throughout the movie to smoke out corruption inside a notorious HK prison.
An untouchable, super-rich psycho princeling, Cao Yuen Yuen (Raymond Lam), runs the joint like a king as though it's his own personal playground. This fella bribes the prison officials by helping them send their kids to expensive elite schools in America. Which shows you how important getting into a snooty SAP school is even in a HK crime flick.
Now, “playground” is a very apt here because the convicts — separated into feuding gangs of hardcore criminals and busted ex-cops — keep fighting each other like squabbling schoolboys in the exercise yard, kitchen, shower room and even in the warden's office. Luk himself gets stabbed here in a daily fracas. But, wouldn't you know it, he's more or less okay in the next scenes as if nothing had happened.
This is how it is with these Storm movies directed by the same guy, David Lam. Unlike the intense Infernal Affairs films or the flashy Cold War flicks, this series is basically no-strain-on-the-brain flimsy but easy-to-watch entertaining. P Storm, despite its simplistic plot and sedentary change of scene from other Storms, is still quite enjoyable.
Oh, and also despite its predictable and hackneyed joke here about using soap in the common shower. “If you drop a bar of soap, never pick it up,” straight-shooter Luk is advised about less virtuous straight-shooters lurking in the bathroom. Yep, director Lam must have seen his fair share of Clint Eastwood prison films.
Just a thought: Is he going to cover the entire English alphabet from A to Z here (G Storm is apparently in the works) and exactly how breathtakingly corrupt is Hongkong?
Anyway, his franchise coasts on one popular and continuing ingredient — the star appeal of Louis Koo backed up by assorted familiar HK actors who all seem, whether they play good guy or bad guy, to be his very good friends off-screen during lunch break. Julian Cheung and Kevin Cheng return as Luk's cop allies protecting his cover on the outside, while newcomer villain Raymond Lam, by the way, finally reunites with Koo after their 2001 TV series together, A Step Into the Past. On a HK show, you know, everybody knows everybody.
Man, they can threaten, warn, pummel and growl at each other in menacing close-ups in all kinds of film-stagey altercations with a fear factor of zero and an overall tension meter of minus zero. It doesn't matter because you always know that Koo is the “tai kor” (“big brother” in Cantonese) here on the sole basis that he looks exactly like upright, handsome, winsome and absolutely incorruptible Louis Koo with not a single hair out of place in every scene covering incarceration, intrusion and investigation.
How this dude can infiltrate right into the good graces of chief baddie Cao is beyond logical comprehension because chief investigator Luk looks like a cop, acts like a cop and is most clearly a cop.
“Just because you did me a favour doesn't mean you're one of us,” Cao warns Luk after the latter helps him in a brawl. But, well, that's still exactly what happens as Luk becomes a trusted lieutenant while he gathers evidence in the prison to bring down the cruel Cao whom he blames for the death of his girlfriend's (Chrissie Chau) granddad in a ruthless land-grab incident.
I keep wondering doesn't this make Tom Cruise look like an idiot sweating in those Mission: Impossible infiltration capers when it looks so easy here? But clearly Tom Cruise is no Louis Koo. There's a certain reassuring and familiar comfort in watching Cool Koo cruise through in unruffled and calm subterfuge action right across P Storm. Seriously though, how do these letters get chosen anyway? Does “P” stand for “prison?
And it's actually part of the fun of the franchise to see Louis cede the spotlight to his co-stars such that he generously gives the big finale — a prolonged fight onboard a careening helicopter — to good guy Kevin Cheng. Individually, these co-stars, even the ones trying to harm him, basically team up as buddies with Koo.
Lam, as the baddie, stares daggers at Koo, but yet, you know that these two probably karaoke together after work. Same thing with old hand Gordon Lam, who comes back from the original 2014 film, Z Storm, in a good but too brief return as the corrupt ex-Superintendent of Police, Wong Man Ban, whom Luk took down five years ago. This time, as a resident alpha-felon in the prison, he marks the undercover dude out as a primary target. Oh, well, bad luck to good Luk (sorry, I couldn't resist this joke).
Now, on this topical subject of prison in P Storm, one inmate here — a chummy ally of Koo who goes in and out of a jail cell for the free food and lodging explains it rationally, starkly and funnily. “Going to jail is the only way out for young people in Hongkong,” he spells out the high cost of living in the harsh world outside.
Amid the unreal swirlings of P Storm, this is actually its one R Storm. R for Real, that is. (***)
Photo: Shaw Organisation