Starring : Sean Lau, Louis Koo, Nick Cheung, Lo Hoi-pang, Ken Lo, Yuan Quan

Director : Benny Chan

Release Date : 5 Dec 2013

WHAT’S that old country song that goes “My teardrops fell like rain that day”? No reply needed – the whole world knows. Just like many of the moral and ethical questions posed to the characters in this cop drama don’t really require any answers, because the issues are fundamental and familiar.

Trust, loyalty, survival, honour and betrayal – ah, all the ingredients for a good “heroic bloodshed” movie.

The appeal of The White Storm, which aspires to achieve the status of a crime epic, is in seeing how its flawed but relatable characters deal with the fallout of their actions and decisions. Its core acting triumvirate is the main draw, next to the sweeping story (which is tripped up somewhat by taking too many detours).

Once upon a time there were three little boys who went to the police academy and grew up to be played by HK movie idols: Tin (Sean Lau), the ambitious and driven inspector who will stop at nothing to keep the drug lords from overrunning the city; Chow (Louis Koo), the undercover cop who wants out so that he can spend time with his wife (Yuan Quan), who is expecting their first child; and Wai (Nick Cheung), the loyal guy who respects and admires both his buddies.

Besties from childhood to adulthood, they care so deeply for one another that each man profoundly regrets any decisions or actions that hurt the others. How profoundly? By shedding plenty of heroic blood and manly tears when the situation calls for it.

How do you shed manly tears? By trembling with barely restrained rage, or grimacing from the pain you know you’ve caused someone else, or looking off into the distance (the Zen art of staring without looking), or standing in a cemetery screaming wordlessly and soundlessly while water artistically leaks from the corner of one or both eyes, teardrops falling like rain. (If these guys were Transformers, they’d be Emoticons.)

So, it goes like this: Chow is about to hand Tin a big drug bust, but HQ pulls the plug at the last moment because the mid-size fish they’ve targeted can lead international law enforcement to a prize catch: the last remaining Golden Triangle opium warlord known as the Eight-faced Buddha (Lo Hoi-pang).

Surrounded by a small army, most likely deployed to eliminate everyone who makes fun of his bad hair, old Eight-faced is a reclusive and crafty individual who conducts most of his business through his sons and (according to Chow) transgender “daughter”. So it’s going to be a challenge not only to draw him out, but to bring him in.

Forced to stay in the game, Chow follows the trail to Thailand while Tin and Wai tail him as part of an international law enforcement task force. Which, as infernal luck would have it, has a mole in its midst.

Long story short, Thailand becomes the turning point in the three officers’ relationship through some startling, violent twists – resulting in a reversal of fortune as well as several reversals of role. In a way, it plays out kind of like A Better Tomorrow only with the protagonists all on the side of the law.

As big as the whole Thailand sequence seems, it’s only the midway point of this epic, which really could have done with a bit of trimming and a little holding back of the emo stuff.

Like director/co-writer Benny Chan’s most recent effort, Shaolin, the drama tends to overreach itself and become melodrama, robbing many scenes of the impact they would’ve had if the filmmaker had dialled it back a little.

There are more than a few scenes, too, where you really wish he hadn’t insisted on having the cast speak in English. Not only does it sound like they’re just reading their lines, it sounds like some body part was being crushed in a vice at a time. Well, at least the characters don’t shout at each other all the time, like in Special ID.

One of The White Storm’s moments that are calculated to max out the sentimentality did work quite well for me. It involves Wai’s elderly mother (Law Lan), who is going senile, and how she keeps mistaking Tin and Chow for her son while not recognising him at all. It’s a manipulative trick on the audience, sure, but the leads and Ms Law make it work with nuanced portrayals where they work in subtle hints of their respective regrets.

It’s too bad that the way things play out among the three friends doesn’t always ring true because of the exaggerated or contrived circumstances.

There’s one inexplicable hand-severing scene which just doesn’t make any sense, especially not when you see what the unhanded fellow does after that.

And the finale mostly consists of bad guys – supposedly crack mercenaries who behave more like mercenaries on crack – throwing themselves into the heroes’ line of fire. Shades of A Better Tomorrow II!

These little complaints aside, The White Storm is still an ambitious undertaking that succeeds more than it stumbles.

It does ask a lot of the viewer, including some patience, but the strong performances of its three principal actors and the mostly well-staged action make the journey a bumpy but entertaining ride.