Running Time: 128 minutes
MPAA Rating: NR, but probably R
Format: Widescreen
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1
Languages: Cantonese, Mandarin
Subtitles: English, Chinese
Region: 1
MSRP: $49.99 (OOP)

Own It!
The Storm Riders (1998) (Import)

The Storm Riders may be based on some Chinese comic book, but a more obvious influence is the genre of Japanese role-playing games. From the CGI opening sequence to the bizarre magical powers all the characters possess, this looks like an unofficial live-action Final Fantasy film.

However, it is also a beautifully photographed Hong Kong action film. Set in some historical period (there is a strange mix of ancient and more recent styles), The Storm Riders follows the story of Lord Conquer (Sonny Chiba... yes, Sonny Chiba!), a warlord bent on, uh, conquering the world. Luckily for him, he is prophesied to be unbeatable if he can bring two young boys, named Wind and Cloud, into his clan. Conquer does this handily by killing the two boys' parents.

Ten years later the grown Wind (Ekin Cheng) and Cloud (Aaron Kwok) are Conquer's disciples. Conquer is worried about the two things. One is the unread third prophecy about what happens after he gets to be unbeatable. That prophecy is locked in a box that can only be opened by Conquer's former soothsayer Mud Buddha, so Conquer sends the kind hearted Wind to retrieve him. Conquer is also worried about his upcoming duel with Sword Saint (an unrecognizable Anthony Wong), so he sends the unpredictable and moody Cloud to Unchallenged City to steal the Unchallenged sword.

All of this sets in motion the plot, which is fairly standard. Wind and Cloud are set against each other by their natures and their love of Conquer's daughter, Charity. What sets The Storm Riders apart from other HK films are the amazing wire work action sequences and neat-o special effects. Tons of them, all wonderfully shot. This movie is a feast for the eyes. While the special effects may not be quite up to Hollywood standards, when was the last time Hollywood made Sonny Chiba fly around and sword fight? Once ILM does that a few times, then they can talk about being the best special effects house in the world.

Here's a switch. For once we have a Hong Kong disc that looks as good as most domestic discs. This disc really is breathtaking. The image is clear and strong and the colors are eye-popping. Even if Columbia TriStar were to release this Stateside, they couldn't do much to improve on this disc's look.

But... and there just had to be a "but"... the audio is a mixed bag. The actual sound mix is good, but on the copy reviewed there is an annoying hum on the soundtrack for most of the movie. It gets particularly bad in the chapter entitled "Seeking Fire Monkey," and it is exactly the same on both the Cantonese and Mandarin tracks.

There are a few extras here. Two sets of text files are included, one for the characters and one for the actors. The character files are useful for getting some of the character names down, but they don't tell you much that isn't stated outright in the movie. (Cloud is "moody" and Charity is "fickle in love." Ooh...) The actor files include a couple of interesting tidbits, such as that director Lau wasn't sure if Chiba was right for Conquer. What was his damage?

There are also two featurettes. One is a Making Of, which is mostly talking heads (in untranslated Chinese) and some behind the scenes footage, mostly centering on the special effects. Considering what an action-packed movie this is, there is very little action. There is also a short on the special effects, consisting mostly of the deconstruction of various shots into their component elements.

Finally, the film's trailer is included in Cantonese, Mandarin, and International versions. The International version features Sonny Chiba speaking in his own voice (he's dubbed in the movie), which may very well be the first time I've ever heard it.

Scott Hamilton, 4/18/2001