Shock Wave

****

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Shock Wave
"With a set-up and title like this, it's obvious from the outset that Yau isn't going to let the emergency services wrap things up neatly and go home for a nice cup of tea."

A highly skilled terrorist with a personal grudge. A tunnel full of innocent people. A veteran explosives expert who's ready to settle down and live a quiet life. Herman Yau's Shock Wave has all the ingredients of a gripping action thriller and he doesn't let the audience down.

Yau stands out in the Hong Kong crowd for his willingness to blend two very different styles of filmmaking: the traditional Chinese epic drama and the high octane thrillers that pull in the crowds today. Here, his talents are paired with those of the absurdly prolific but always impressive Andy Lau. The pair last worked together on 1988 courtroom drama The Truth, when Yau was serving as cinematographer. Although Lau has made over a hundred films since then, they seem completely as ease together, Lau providing the grit and the heart in Yau's most spectacular creation to date.

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It begins with a flashback: we see Commander Cheung (Lau) working undercover to expose a terrorist group before it can commit a series of bombings. This is how he gets on the wrong side of criminal mastermind Peng Hong (Wu Jiang). Partly out of revenge and partly in a bid to get his brother released from prison, Peng sets up an elaborate trap, positioning lorries full of explosives at either end of Hong-Kong's Cross-Harbour Tunnel. With hundreds of people trapped inside and a group of gunmen keeping them under control, he forces Cheung to act as his go-between. When he fears that the explosives expert may be getting ahead of him, he distracts him with a series of smaller bomb-related challenges, putting the lives of people he cares about in danger.

The title here relates to a greater threat: if both lorries explode at the same time, the impact of the two shock waves travelling in different directions could rip the tunnel apart. Cheung must use both his technical skill and his personal negotiating skills to keep the situation under control whilst placating frustrated superiors and trying not to be distracted by worry about the woman he loves (Jia Song), who, because she worries about his job, he is trying hard not to have a relationship with.

With a set-up and title like this, it's obvious from the outset that Yau isn't going to let the emergency services wrap things up neatly and go home for a nice cup of tea. He strikes a good balance between delivering on the promise of big shiny explosions and giving his good guys something to fight for, whilst delivering enough smaller action sequences in between to keep pulses racing. Time is taken to let us get to know Cheung before the action starts, and minor supporting characters are effectively established as people we can care about when we meet them in passing, watching the queue to get their cars into the tunnel or seeing how they respond to being ordered around by Peng's men. Yau has always been good at directing ensembles and this is a great example of how to build up a disaster movie well, making the plight of the hostages about more than just numbers.

Though Wu Jiang's emotionally driven villain isn't quite a match for Lau's quiet charisma, the film grips throughout. Like controlled explosions, the sharply choreographed action scenes gives the impression of chaos when everything is moving to plan. This is edge of the seat stuff and its Fantasia screening should ensure it attracts a good sized audience in the West. It's another reminder that, when it comes to modern action blockbusters, Hong Kong is where it's at.

Reviewed on: 17 Jul 2017
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An explosives expert has to overcome a series of challenges in order to save the lives of hundreds of people trapped in a tunnel by a crazed bomber with a personal grudge.

Director: Herman Yau

Writer: Erica Lee, Herman Yau

Starring: Andy Lau, Wu Jiang, Jia Song

Year: 2017

Runtime: 120 minutes

Country: Hong Kong

Festivals:

Fantasia 2017

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