SHOCK WAVE: A Limp Andy Lau Actioner

Hoping For A Spark in the Hong Kong Action Scene? Look Elsewhere…

You know, I really do enjoy Chinese cinema. There was a while there where John Woo was my all-time favorite director. And there are quite a few Chinese mega-stars who I’ll go out of my way to check out. In recent years, however, I’m more often frustrated with Chinese cinema than head over heels for it. Wuxia epics are lush and lavish, but almost always feel hollow, lauding an ancient Chinese hero in a watered down fashion. Modern action movies feel slick and polished, but rarely challenging. Chinese cinema today often feels like government approved cultural products meant to show the world that China is a country of heroes. For me, this results in an environment where dozens of Chinese films get US releases each year, but I rarely know which titles are worth taking the chance on. Dozens will come and go with little to no fanfare, and it feels easy to skip the vast majority of them. I’ll be the first to admit, however, that these sentiments apply more to the genre titles that come to our shores than the myriad dramatic titles.

I’ve never really been an outright Andy Lau mega-fan or anything, but there was something about the trailer for Shock Wave that made it seem like it was the movie to take a chance on. Perhaps I was nostalgic for a new entry in the storied history of Hong Kong action cinema. Perhaps I was ready to take my Andy Lau fandom to the next level. Maybe I was overdue a good “bomb squad maverick sweatily choosing which wire to cut” movie.

Sadly, Shock Wave really offered nothing new or moved the needle in any of those categories. As a Hong Kong action film, it feels large in scope, with Lau’s bomb squad cop J.S. Cheung squaring off against a terrorist with a vendetta against him who executes an elaborate attack cutting off the major underwater tunnel in Hong Kong and bringing the city to a stand still. The stakes are high, as is the body count, but the action mostly feels perfunctory. It feels like a government sanctioned love letter to the superiority of the Chinese police force with very little nuance to be found. The one interesting subplot involves a corporate villain who is making a killing off of the terrorist attack and is revealed to be a force behind the attack itself. This feels like a weird Die Hard riff where you are supposed to be guessing if the attack is motivated by political/personal causes, or just for money. It’s somewhat interesting, but largely a red herring that goes nowhere.

As an Andy Lau star vehicle, it’s also pretty bland. Lau is unquestionably handsome and convincing as a stand up guy who’s the best at what he does. He also has impossibly perfect hair, which is worth noting. But his character has zero nuance. He was an undercover agent at the beginning, which results in a betrayal that lays the groundwork for the movie’s big terrorism plot. He wins some bravery awards, gets a girlfriend, does a bunch of heroic stuff, and indeed clips some wires on ticking bombs while wiping sweat off his brow. But none of it really feels like it’s offering anything new. Character beats all feel like elements in a screenplay that just need to fill enough time to get us through this thing. Lau just has very little to do and what moments he does have don’t land emotionally.

Writer/Director Herman Yau has a remarkable 67 directorial credits to his name, including a couple of the non-Donnie Yen Ip Man films. Incredibly, I don’t believe I’ve ever seen any of these 67 films. While Shock Wave does feel like a film created by a seasoned filmmaker, it doesn’t feel so in a good way. It feels like the film of a director who has done this all before and is just re-assembling parts to create a new whole. At times it feels slick, and the stakes are appropriately high for a blockbuster film. But other times editing feels choppy, the passage of time feels confusing and muddled, car chases feel clunky, and even gunfights feel sloppy and off-kilter.

Andy Lau is a mega-star, and there are literally dozens of his films I would recommend before this one. All Shock Wave really has going for it is scope and spectacle, which you can get in any big dumb American blockbuster, and Lau’s upright handsomeness and bravado, which you can also get in much better films. With little new to offer, and little in the way of thrilling execution, Shock Wave ends up a dull affair that’s entirely safe to skip, even for fans of Hong Kong action.

The Package

Featuring a couple of bonus features such as a “Making Of” and a “Bomb Disposal Expert” piece, this is a streamlined little package. Cinedigm offers a pretty decent looking home video package for a movie that just never quite comes together. Shock Wave isn’t recommended for anyone but the staunchest Andy Lau fan or Hong Kong action completist.

And I’m Out.

Shock Wave hits DVD and Blu-ray January 2nd, 2018 from Cinedigm.

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