"All I'm saying is, you really should think about trying Listerine."
If there's one thing you get from watching fantasy films, it's the understanding that being the bad guy rocks. Other than the inevitable final scene where the good guy kills him, the bad guy has all the best clothes, the best castles, and all the babes his tongue can handle. Rather than trying to capture ultimate power by acquiring whatever object or killing whatever child the plot requires, he (or she) should really just concentrate on getting the movie to end before the climax. Perhaps this could be accomplished by keeping Whoopi Goldberg in a bikini nearby, and pulling her in front of the camera every few minutes.
The Storm Riders, a big budget Hong Kong fantasy film made in 1997, is a great example of why being the bad guy is such a great gig. The villain is Lord Conquer of the Conquer Clan who, unsurprisingly, wants to conquer things. He lives in a huge castle on the top of a mountain, lord of all he surveys. He has loyal followers, and even his own psychic hotline named Mud Buddha. But this isn't good enough for him. He wants to conquer the entire world, and to do that he needs to defeat someone called Sword Saint. Mud Buddha prophesizes that the inevitable duel with Sword Saint will be delayed ten years and that Conquer can become invincible before then if he can make two certain children (named Wind and Cloud) into his disciples.
The best part of The Storm Riders is that Lord Conquer is played by Sonny Chiba! Yes, the same Sonny Chiba who gained B-movie immortality for playing Terry in the Street Fighter series of movies. Sonny was pushing 60 when he made this movie, but he still looks good enough to take off his shirt during one of his many fight scenes. And as a bonus, he gives a great performance, even if we don't get to hear his real voice.
There are some movies that would concern themselves entirely with the acquiring of the disciples, but that's just prologue for The Storm Riders. Conquer sends his goons to acquire the child Cloud, who is the son of a blacksmith who makes powerful magic swords with incredibly cool names. The goons kill the blacksmith (Rongguang Yu) and take the child. Unfortunately for Conquer, they are unable to find the Ultimate Sword the blacksmith is rumored to have forged.
"Hey baby, I'll be Sonny, and you be Cher!"
Conquer comes upon the other disciple, Wind, completely by accident. Years before, Conquer dueled Whispering Prince, known for wielding the powerful Blizzard Blade. Conquer won that fight, but Whispering Prince refused to hand over the sword. Conquer took the his wife as collateral for a second duel. This second duel, fought on top of a giant stone Buddha, ends with Whispering Prince being killed by the Fire Beast that lives beneath the huge statue. Before the Whispering Prince dies, however, he asks Conquer to spare his son, Wind. The look on Conquer's face is priceless, as if Carmen Electra had just propositioned him, with the promise that she will bring friends.
The movie then skips ten years into the future. Wind and Cloud are now grown men, firmly entrenched in the Conquer Clan. Wind (Ekin Cheng) has grown up to be a compassionate, romantic man, and has mastered the "Wind Kick," a martial arts move that makes a person appear to spin around while being suspended by invisible wires. Cloud (Aaron Kwok) has grown up to be a sullen young man, and has mastered "Cloud Palm," which allows him to throw water around as a lethal weapon, so long as that water is computer generated. Conquer's inner circle is completed by Frost (Michael Tse), master of the "Frost Punch," and Conquer's daughter Charity (Kristy Yang). Charity's name comes from her... giving nature. Let's just say it's a good thing her name isn't "Chastity."
"I'm a cinch to be in the next X-Men movie!"
To prepare for his imminent duel with Sword Saint, Conquer sends the Wind and Cloud on separate quests. Wind is to find Mud Buddha, who disappeared 10 years ago after giving Conquer a puzzle box that contained another prophecy. In the decade since Conquer hasnt managed to open the box, so he wants the Mudster to do it for him. Cloud is to travel to Unchallenged City (Okay, now we have to ask. Where are these names coming from?) and capture the Unchallenged Sword, which is in the hands of the leader of the Unchallenged Clan.
To find Mud Buddha, you have to seek the Fire Monkey, or so Wind is told. Wind achieves this pretty easily. It develops that Mud needs the Fire Monkey to relieve the pain of horrible lesions that cover his face, punishment for telling the future. How did this treatment come about?
Scene: Conquer HMO
Conquer HMO Technician: So, what seems to be the problem?
Mud Buddha: I can see the future, so the gods have cursed me with horrible, painful lesions on my face.
Conquer HMO Technician: I'm sorry, but I'm not qualified to make that diagnosis.
Four Hours Later
Conquer HMO Technician: Okay, our Divine Retribution Specialist diagnosed your lesions as being from divine retribution. Unfortunately your insurance allows only one treatment for this condition, the Fire Monkey!
Mud Buddha: AAAAHHH! IT BURNS! It burnnnnnsssss!!!
Conquer HMO Technician: If you feel some discomfort, it's because the monkey is on fire. The only treatment I can prescribe for that is the Fire Badger...
Mud Buddha: NOOOOOOOOOO!!!
"Pull my finger!"
Meanwhile, Cloud travels to Unchallenged City via the Unchallenged Road and kills every Unchallenged person there.
Conquer finds out that the hidden prophecy predicts his downfall at the hands (and feet) of Wind and Cloud, should they unite against him. To forestall this, Conquer decides to wed Wind to Chastity. This goes swimmingly, at least from Conquer's point of view. Cloud shows up at the wedding and steals Charity. Conquer encourages Wind to fight for her honor. A Final Fantasy style fight breaks out, and Conquer, trying to guarantee the outcome, accidentally hits his own daughter with a killer color-leeching blast. Cloud flees with Charity's body, while Wind stays around the mountain and gets drunk.
New from Certs, Ice Vigor
-- With Retsin!
Cloud takes a brief detour to steal the "Ice Vigor" (a kind of supernatural gumball that preserves a dead body in a lifelike state) from a neighboring clan, then takes Charity's body to the royal crypt. Conquer confronts Cloud there, knowing that there is no liquid for Cloud to throw around. For his part, Conquer has a Palm attack that works with rocks! Needless to say Cloud begins to lose very badly. It looks like things are over for Cloud when Conquer breaks every bone in Cloud's left arm using just his two fingers. We get to see the bones break via "X-ray" type special effects, no doubt a reference to the "X-ray punches" Sonny Chiba threw in the Street Fighter films. As a last ditch measure, Cloud rips his left arm off and throws his own blood at Conquer! This has got to be just about the coolest scene ever committed to film.
Doctor Yu's regeneration isn't going well.
(It's funny if you say it out loud.)
(And you're a nerd.)
Cloud escapes, and is nursed back to health by Muse (Qi Shu). And wouldn't you know it, Muse's father, the healer Yu, has a "Fire Beast Arm." Where this disobedient limb came from or why it's attached to such a mild guy is never explained, but that's pretty much par for the course in The Storm Riders. The movie is based on a Chinese comic book by Wa Wing Shing, and a lot of origin type material seems to have been left out to keep the story moving.
Only in medieval fantasy movies can people play Mr. Potato Head with the human body, swapping parts in and out with aplomb. So it should come as no surprise that Yu lops off his left arm and attaches it to Cloud. One wonders how they might apply this to other animalistic body parts they found lying about.
Shaolin Monk 1: Hey, this dead wolf just came in. I was thinking maybe I'd lop off my own nose and replace it with his. Do you think I'd smell better that way?
Shaolin Monk 2: I think you'd smell better if you took a bath.
These hemorrhoid commercials
are getting out of hand.
They're called "classic" jokes for a reason, people!
Having lost Cloud, Conquer sends Wind on a quest to acquire some magical fruit defended by the same Fire Beast that killed Wind's father. Wind prevails, though, and ends up with his father's Blizzard Blade too. Conquer's duplicity finally revealed to all, Wind and Cloud head back to the mountain with revenge on their minds. And for good measure, Sword Saint (the ubiquitous Anthony Wong) has just shown up for his duel. Giant swords and magical spells flow freely.
The first thing that strikes even us jaded watchers of Hong Kong films about The Storm Riders is that it is an awfully slick film. The story plays like something out of a Japanese role-playing video game, and the fight sequences don't look much different. Not that this is a bad thing: if you're going to fantasize about martial arts, you could do worse than to edit everything together in a hyper-kinetic, super-stylistic frenzy. Energy waves of brilliant blue and red radiate as the combatants strike at each other, and each of the characters has his own "specialty moves," such as the ability to freeze opponents or Cloud's ability to direct liquids at his enemies, which of course led him in to that whole ripping-his-own-arm-off direction.
"Does this bug you?"
It would be overstatement to call the plot complicated (there are too many wrinkles and details to track), but it does have a sort of soap-opera feel to it, with most disagreements settled by actions instead of words. Luckily, the character interactions are real enough -- and the actions filmed gorgeously enough that the more stylistic aspects are acceptable. There's some gnashing of teeth and rolling of eyes (note the way Chiba acts everyone else off the screen after unintentionally harming his daughter), but before it becomes too much you'll find that another fight has broken out. And besides, at least Chiba is acting. The two leads, Aaron Kwok and Ekin Chang, are idols to teenaged girls, and don't bother to do much more than look their respective parts. Luckily, you can get away with that in such a visual film. We were also a little disappointed to see Qi Shu doing the exact same schtick she did in Jackie Chan's Gorgeous. She's a beautiful actress, but her naïve-and-talkative country girl act is wearing thin, and we've only seen her in two films.
We did leave this film a little sad, though. Conquer had it all. His clan was the greatest, he knew he was invulnerable, and he had a beautiful daughter. But no, he had to prove he was the best, with predictably bad results for him. Perhaps if Conquer had tried to kill the camera crew instead of Sword Saint, the good times would have never had to end.