Shock Wave 2

****1/2

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Shock Wave 2
"There are complex questions here about morality and identity, but mostly it’s just action and explosions. This is fine."

Now that it’s serious about the international blockbuster market, Hong Kong does not do things by halves. Just five minutes into the frenetically paced actioner that is Shock Wave two, we have seen not just a plane but an entire airport destroyed in an atomic blast. Then we rewind. This hasn’t happened after all, we are told – not yet. Can it be prevented?

The first Shock Wave film saw veteran explosives expert Poon Shing-fung (Andy Lau) pitted against a vengeful terrorist whose deadly scheme might see the city’s Cross-Harbour Tunnel ripped in half. This time, he faces a whole network of terrorists apparently inspired by pure nihilism, but there’s a twist – he might be one of them.

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It’s a complicated set-up. In early scenes we see Poon dealing with smaller scale explosives-based terror scenarios, in one of which he is seriously injured, losing his lower left leg. He throws himself into rehabilitation, giving it all he’s got, but despite having a good quality prosthetic and being in great shape otherwise, he doesn’t meet the requirements set by his agency, and is forced out. Some months later he wakes up in hospital to find himself a suspect in a major bombing incident. Has he been recruited by terrorists who exploited his bitterness? Was he working undercover? He doesn’t know, but with armed operatives closing in on the hospital, he has to escape in order to figure it out.

There are complex questions here about morality and identity, but mostly it’s just action and explosions. This is fine because few directors approach them with as much gusto as Herman Yau, and the stunt work is terrific – as you would expect with Li Chung-chi involved in the choreography. Many of the stunts are performed by Lau himself. At 60 years of age he shows no sign of slowing down. Much of what his character does is complicated by disability and this lets the team get really creative in setting up different kinds of challenge and solution. It never feels exploitative, instead inviting viewers to look at disability in a more open-minded way, with, in places, direct comment on the ridiculousness of the way people are tossed aside by society due to impairments which they can easily work around.

Framing all this is a simple but cleverly structured plot. The film draws emotional weight from the bonds between members of the explosives squad, and from Poon’s connection to his ex-girlfriend, Pong Ling (played by Ni Ni, who is 33 – Hollywood’s influence is felt in more ways than one). She’s the agent in charge of bringing down terrorist Ma Sai Kwan (Tse Kwan-ho) but her whole operation is shrouded in secrecy and she has to deal with the fact that saving the city means exposing Poon to dangers he may not survive.

There’s a distinctly Chinese aspect to the calculations at work here. Whereas Hollywood film see people quickly jump to estimating the number of casualties when they think about how awful an attack could be, a similar expression of outrage here concerns how long it would take before a nuked airport could be rebuilt. This isn’t as cold as it might seem – the airport is vital to trade, and so to the economy, and to the well-being of millions, but it’s a different way of looking at the issue which may give Western viewers a shock. The conclusion of the film relies on a similarly utilitarian assessment, as we see some spectacular damage being done, but it’s not without a streak of sentimentality, highlighting the human cost by focusing on individuals. Grossing $63.9 million in its opening weekend, this is quite simply one of the biggest and most spectacular films the world has ever seen. If you’re a serious action fan, you can’t afford to miss it.

Reviewed on: 27 Oct 2021
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Let go from the bomb squad due to disability, Poon wakes up in hospital with amnesia and is forced to go on the run as terrorist bombers threaten to destroy Hong Kong International Airport.

Director: Herman Yau

Writer: Herman Yau, Erica Li, Eric Lee

Starring: Andy Lau, Ching Wan Lau, Ni Ni, Tse Kwan-ho

Year: 2020

Runtime: 120 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: Hong Kong, China

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