SHOCK WAVE (2017) review

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For Shock Wave, Herman Yau was given the biggest budget of his directing career, and was rewarded with his biggest commercial success yet. Andy Lau plays JS Cheung, a superintendent of the EOD (Explosive Ordnance Disposal) Bureau finds himself in the crosshairs of a dangerous terrorist, Hung Kai Pang (Jiang Wu), in whose gang he had gone undercover years ago, and whose brother (Wang Ziyi) he put behind bars. Hung, a deranged bomb specialist, is hungry for revenge and wants his brother out of prison; after challenging Cheung with carefully crafted explosive devices left in public places, he takes hundreds of civilians hostage in Hong Kong’s Cross-Harbour Tunnel, which he has rigged with 1000kg of C-4 explosive.

Sharing with Alan Yuen’s Firestorm (2013) a taste for caving in the streets of Hong Kong and Andy Lau as an unstoppable cop, Shock Wave nevertheless has none of that film’s interesting moral murkiness. Lau’s JS Cheung is a perfect human being: courageous, responsible, bold but by-the-book, considerate, self-sacrificing, charming, humble, the list goes on. He is pitted against a one-note Jiang Wu as an obsessive villain who likes to kill the innocent, and derives sick pleasure from crafting intricate explosive devices. He has a girlfriend (a wasted Song Jia, completely overqualified for the role), who’s emotionally needy, and ready to become a collateral stake when the villain targets her. Also wrapped up in the plot are a slimy tycoon (Liu Kai Chi entertainingly over-selling the sliminess), a hot-blooded colleague (Philip Keung, quite excellent in a role more fleshed-out than what he normally gets), and a selection of hostages that are quickly introduced, then followed during the crisis (including Babyjohn Choi as a young cop and Louis Cheung as a tour guide), like in a 70’s disaster film – a genre with which the film also shares a focus on structural engineering.

And yet while the story is a by-the-numbers collision of archetypes, Shock Wave never fails to entertain: its bomb-disposal scenes are varied and engagingly executed, its tension suffers few slumps (even at a generous two-hour runtime), and there are welcome moments and levity and one or two scenes of gut-wrenching tragedy. In the film’s final reel, the vehicular, explosive mayhem inside the tunnel is quite impressive, under the sure hand of action director Dion Lam. Plus, there’s Andy Lau, who stopped aging a long time ago but keeps maturing beautifully, and here manages to make a squeaky-clean character compelling, thanks in large part to a final lapse into righteous rage.

Long Story Short: A rock-solid thriller which makes up in spectacle, intensity and charisma what it lacks in nuance and originality. ***1/2

 

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