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Title: Z Storm

Movie: :2stars:
Video: :4stars:
Audio: :4stars:
Extras: :2stars:

HTS Overall Score:68

It’s not hard to see why “Z Storm” was made. 2014 was the 40th anniversary of Hong Kong’s ICAC division (Independent Commission Against Corruption) and they wanted to really toot the horn for their beloved anti-corruption task force. Bringing in veteran film maker David Lam was icing on the cake and a definite draw for me, since I grew up watching his films like “Asian Connection” and “Magnificent Team”. It’s been over 15 years since his last feature film and I was more than excited to see how the famed 80s and 90s action/thriller director would do. Especially considering that he’s an old school Hong Kong director, which made me long for the good old days of HK cinema. Unfortunately his return to the silver screen doesn’t exactly bring back a return to form, as “Z Storm” plods along as a fairly slow pace, and doesn’t bring enough to the table to really peak anyone’s interest.

The main plot of the film is rather vague. It seems that a giant hedge fund, named the Z Hedge Fund, has been created using over 150 million taxpayer dollars by both private investors and the Hong Kong government. The goal of this fund is the better of life (somehow) of the Hong Kong people, but it’s pretty obvious from the get go that the fund is a bit hinky. Dirty cops (Ka Tung Lam) get wealthy investors and mob accountants off the hook, and soon enough the ICAC is forced to step in after the cop’s wife comes in and tries to blow the whistle. Lead agent William Luk Che Lim (Louis Koo) is tasked with investigating the hedge fund before it is brought online in the public market in the next 6 days.

His investigation proves to be a dicey one, as said dirty cops and other criminal elements are doing their best to keep him from finishing the investigation before the fund goes live. Rich philanthropist Malcolm Wu (Michael Wong) becomes the main target of the investigation, but his deep pockets and mob connections keep him out of the crosshairs for very long, as he kills off every investigative lead the ICAC has. With time running out and tempers running high, William is not sure that he can root out the corruption before tis too late. That is, until he comes across a beautiful young cancer patient who very well may be the key to blowing the lid off the whole enterprise.

“Z Storm” is feels much more like a made for TV movie than an actual feature film. Spending a lot of time trying to mimic more successful financial thrillers like “Cold War” or even American entries like “Margin Call”. The whole issue with the Z hedge fund seems a bit out of left field and very poorly explained. All we really know is that this hedge fund is going up and that that the ICAC agents have some suspicion that something funky is going on in the background. Besides that we really don’t get to see anything that makes you drawn to the characters or even care about the outcome of the investigation. The ICAC agents themselves are spouting out jingoistic dialog like “As long as corruption exists, ICAC will be there” and the like, making it seem like the whole purpose of the movie was to pat the real life ICAC agency on the back. This does lend itself for some unintentional humor though, as you can’t help but chuckle when the agents all walk towards the camera in slow motion, or spout out dialog like the afore mentioned, but in terms of plot, it doesn’t exactly do a whole lot.

By the end of the movie you just don’t CARE what happens. None of the agents are memorable, and even the villains are just faceless executives who don’t even mustache twirl enough to seem like evil villains. Even the very ending of the film sets itself up for a sequel as the mysterious Mr. “Zorro” drives off into the sunset, leaving another financial crisis on the horizon. I had to chuckle at a few of the situations in the film, as the rivalry between the dirty cop and agent William Luk Che Lim was a bit comical, and there was a few weird inaccuracies in the script by David Lam. The main one that caught my attention was Malcolm Wu stating that the sword he gives as a gift was owned by one of Spain’s most famous knights, Zorro, even though Zorro himself was a fictional character who fought AGAINST Spain in the California territory of America.

Acting wise, nobody really stands out except for Michael Wong, who has made a career out of that. Louis Koo is usually exceptional, but he is underutilized in favor of Michael Wong. Interesting little Tidbit. Michael Wong doesn’t speak a lick of Cantonese and only a smattering of Mandarin (which is why he alternates between English and Mandarin throughout the film), yet he and his brother, Russell, have both become enormous Hong Kong legends, even starring in several Jackie Chan films. The main flaw I have with the whole situation, is that it never really feels like it gets off the ground. The actors don’t seem that into it, and the script is a tad pedestrian for someone of David Lam’s pedigree. Sad, but true.


Not Rated by the MPAA

Video :4stars:
Shot digitally, “Z Storm” looks quite good on Blu-ray disc, with a solid bitrate that allows for only minimal artifacting. I DID notice some banding here and there, but the amount isn’t that wild and doesn’t become extremely noticeable except in a few spots. Otherwise the shiny image looks amazingly accurate and clear. Fine detail is strong throughout, allowing you to see ever misplaced fiber on the ICAC suits, as well as the bruising and fine blood vessel bursting around the bruised eye of the whistle blower at the beginning. The color grading is that standard grey/blue that Hong Kong cinema loves so much, which is both a blessing and a curse. The blessing is that the image looks crisp and clean, with no bad black levels, or missing detail, but the curse is that the color palette leaves the facial tones a little desaturated and pasty at times. Overall the image is good, with a few flaws that keep it from being truly spectacular.

Audio :4stars:
The Mandarin 5.1 DTS-HD MA track on disc sounds much like the script production felt like, mainly rather made for TV sounding. The dialog is mainly clean and clear, but it does sound a bit limited and there are a few moments where some subtle distortion comes into the mix, especially in the quieter scenes. The surrounds and LFE are used, but never really anything past a TV level soundscape. Effects are boxy and dynamic range is fairly muted. LFE is mild, but decent, leaving itself out of much of the film until we get to the last 15 minute battle where it pounds you back in your seat. Gunshots sound like howitzer cannons and car crashes rock the seats quite nicely, giving a strange disconnection from the rest of the movie, which seems rather pedestrian in comparison. It’s a decent track, and for the most part really well done, but the dialog heavy nature of the track leaves it front heavy and limited in range. Solid, but nothing amazing.

Extras :2stars:

• Interviews
- Louis Koo
- Gordan Lam
- Michael Wong
• Making-of Featurette

Overall: :3.5stars:

“Z Storm” manages to be a semi livable financial thriller, but its inability to make the viewer care for any of the characters or situations keeps it from being truly enjoyable. The over the top patting on the back and melodramatic chest beating over Hong Kong’s ICAC forces is kind of chuckle worthy, but most viewers will be a bit bored with the “by the numbers” effort by David Lam. I expected a lot more from the veteran director’s return to the silver screen but came away feeling lackluster and uninterested by the end of the brisk 92 minute film. Audio and video seem to mirror my boredom, as they do the job well, but add nothing above and beyond the call of duty. Fans of financial thrillers may want to give this one a rental, otherwise I would just give it a pass.

Additional Information:

Starring: Louis Koo, Ka Tung Lam, Dada Chan
Directed by: David Lam
Written by: David Lam, Ho Wa Wong
Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1 AVC
Audio: Cantonese: DTS-HD MA 5.1, Cantonese: DD 2.0
Studio: Well Go USA
Rated: Not Rated
Runtime: 92 minutes
Blu-ray Release Date: August 18th 2015

Buy Z Storm On Blu-ray at Amazon

Recommendation: Pass/Cheap Rental

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