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Star-studded thriller needs more firepower
HIGH on star power but still firing blanks, Hong Kong directors-writers Longman Leung and Sunny Luk return with more of the same in Cold War 2, the sequel to their surprise 2012 hit which smashed box office records that year and was a big winner at the Hong Kong Film Awards where it won most of the major prizes including Best Picture.
However, all the problems that plagued the original police procedural thriller still remain - the plot twists and turns so much it gets confusing; and there are more characters than an episode of Game of Thrones.
For better or worse, Leung and Luk's films, including last year's Helios, have developed a distinctive look and style with its gritty cinematography and excessive posturing from a predominantly male ensemble cast.
Their brand of thrillers also tend to lean heavier on dialogue rather than action set pieces; which explains why Donnie Yen hasn't received the call-up yet.
Still, for all their flaws, Leung and Luk stand head and shoulders above their peers in Hong Kong cinema with their slick-looking films.
Some might call them overrated and their insistence on style over substance can be frustrating; but when it comes to making talkies with dapper men in suits shouting at each other, these two can be counted on to deliver the goods.
Forget good cops and bad cops, in the vein of Andrew Lau and Alan Mak's Infernal Affairs trilogy (2002-2003), the Cold War films only have worse cops and worst cops.
The sequel picks up immediately from the events of the first film where the disappearance of a police van is traced to young officer Joe Lee (Eddie Peng) and leads to his arrest by his own father. The crime comes at the expense of the latter's promotion and he has no choice but to go on forced pre-retirement leave and watch his frenemy Sean Lau (Aaron Kwok) rise to the position of Police Commissioner.
When Lau's family is kidnapped, he abuses his authority by agreeing to meet the captors' demand for the release of Joe. But the hostage exchange goes terribly wrong and results in the prisoner slipping away.
For taking things into his own hands, Lau agrees to be put on trial by Oswald Kan (Chow Yun Fat, a new addition to the cast), a senior counsel and independent member of the judicial council who is convinced there is more than meets the eye in the screw-up.
Meanwhile, MB Lee finds his past coming back to haunt him as several shadowy characters convince him to rejoin the force. He finds the offer difficult to refuse especially with Lau's position in jeopardy and the chance for him to take a second shot of being made Hong Kong's new Police Commissioner.
All that wheeling and dealing gets confusing pretty fast; so much so that Chow - who was in town with co-stars Kwok and Peng - admitted to the media that even he had problems understanding the plot after reading the screenplay.
Leung and Luk (and co-writer Jack Ng) resort to killing off a couple of supporting characters (ala Game of Thrones, once again) in a high octane car chase scene in the middle of the film but that is barely enough to clean up the mess.
Old habits die hard and Cold War 2, like the first film, entertains as much as it frustrates.