I never imagined all those years ago when I was watching exploitation classics like The Untold Story (1993) and Ebola Syndrome (1996) that almost 3 decades later director Herman Yau would become a master of action blockbusters. Not that Yau was never an exciting filmmaker, with him helming some of the most underrated films of Hong Kong Cinema.

As well as those mentioned, the likes of Cop Image (1994), On the Edge (2006) and the sadly overlooked Ip Man: The Final Fight (2013) show how talented a director Yau is. Whilst a fair percentage of Yau’s filmography focuses on action, none of them were on the scale of the more recent Shock Wave (2017). Although Yau continues to work on smaller scale films, since Shock Wave he has helmed the action blockbusters White Storm 2: Drug Lords (2019) and Shock Wave 2 (2020), the latter of which had some of the best action scenes Yau had directed up till that point.

His latest brings him back to The White Storm franchise, with Yau surpassing his work from the last entry in nearly every way. The White Storm 3: Heaven or Hell is once again an in name only sequel, sharing many of the same cast and crew as well as themes, but having a totally separate plot line with new characters. The third entry is more in line with the first film, focusing on the endeavors of police men trying to bring down a drug lord.

The drug lord in question is the notorious Hong So-chai (Lau Ching Wan) who has been infiltrated by undercover cop Cheung Kin-hang (Aaron Kwok). Cheung has been working alongside fellow undercover cop Au Chi-yuen (Louis Koo) to bring So-chai down but just as Au makes his move all hell breaks loose, leading to a violent dockside shootout that leaves many either maimed or dead.

Cheung is amongst the injured, but unlike Au he manages to maintain his cover, with So-chai bringing Cheung with him as he flees to the Golden Triangle. A wanted man in Hong Kong, So-chai begins to rebuild his empire unbeknownst to him that Cheung is trying to get back in contact with Au in order to bring down So-chai once and for all.

This is probably the largest scale actioner Yau has made to date. The dockside shootout is a terrific opener, featuring some terrific action choreography courtesy of Nicky Li Chung-Chi. This gives us a taster of what’s to come with Yau, along with the assistance of Li craft several excellent action scenes with a mixture of gunplay, hand to hand fights and vehicular mayhem.

As great as these action scenes are, the best is certainly kept for the lengthy finale, an explosion filled set piece that has our three leads not only facing off against each other but having to survive an aerial assault where fighter jets unleash all merry hell upon a local village they are located in. The CGI during this set piece isn’t perfect but it is surprisingly competent, especially in comparison to some other Chinese produced actioners I have seen in recent times.

Also writing the script, Yau takes a non linear approach with the story. After initially introducing the main characters in the opening action scene, the film flashes back in time showing how they initially met. Other flashbacks are peppered throughout the film that shows further character and plot developments that we weren’t privy to before. This method of storytelling may not be to everyone’s liking and I would have to agree that it does make what is essentially a simple story seem more convoluted. Still, Yau manages to overcome this by keeping everything moving along at a steady pace which is further assisted by several notable performances.

Lau Ching Wan certainly has the most showy of the three lead roles. His drug lord So-chai has a larger than life personality which allows Lau to chew the scenery on occasion. Yau’s script makes sure not to make So-chai a clear cut villain either. Although he carries out a series of despicable crimes throughout the film, he also shows his loyalty when it comes to Aaron Kwok’s Cheung, going above and beyond to save his life. This is one aspect I appreciated, being reminiscent of the first film where loyalty and brotherhood were some of the film’s main themes.

It was a pleasant change to see Lau as the bad guy, as recently it’s been mostly heroic characters he has portrayed. He clearly excels in these types of roles and I would recommend his performance in Ringo Lam’s Victim (1999) to see how truly great he can be in a more villainous role.

Aaron Kwok’s undercover cop Cheung is clearly the hero of the film and is afforded the most screen time out of the main cast. Cheung does come across as a slightly bland hero but Kwok manages to overcome this with his nervy performance and charisma. He gets his own fair share of the action, with his standout being roughly at the halfway mark where he takes on a truckload of armed mercenaries. At first he seems hesitant to engage until his anger rises and he unleashes hell.

I did appreciate the attempt to make Cheung seem conflicted. He does recognize the need to bring So-chai down but that doesn’t stop him from recognizing the friendship they have built up or the fact that So-chai saved his life. Making things more difficult is his budding relationship with villager Noon (Yang Caiyu), with him having much more to lose than before.

I appreciated the addition of Noon, as not only did it heighten the stakes for Cheung, it also showed a different side to drug trafficking, showing those caught up in an environment through circumstance rather than any desire to be criminals. To many of the poor villagers shown, there is no alternative to this way of life, with them caught up in a maelstrom of violence with no avenue of escape.

Louis Koo is his usual cool self in the lesser of the main roles. He throws himself into the action during the opening set piece, although he is stunt doubled on a few occasions. He gets less screen time than either Kwok or Lau but still makes an impression, with him sharing some similarities with So-chai when it comes to loyalty, with him putting himself in harms way to save his friend.

Although the main focus is on our three leads, some supporting members of the cast still manage to stand out. The wonderful Lam Suet is always a welcome presence, with the only drawback of his performance being that there isn’t more of it. Then there’s the perpetually underrated Alex Fong, once again playing a cop. Fong is one of the most dependable actors working in Hong Kong cinema and like Suet the only drawback is that he’s not in the film longer. For a better helping of Fong I would suggest viewers check out his supporting role in this year’s One More Chance (2023), a heartfelt drama that finds him acting alongside screen legend Chow Yun Fat.

I doubt The White Storm 3 will go down as a classic, but it is further proof that Hong Kong cinema is still alive, and with the right people at the helm is still capable of creating terrific action films that can compete with anything Hollywood has to offer. Other than some minor issues, I found the film to be an exhilarating ride and featuring mostly everything I look for in an action movie.

As expected, there is still more to come from Herman Yau. The constantly busy director has the upcoming Customs Frontline, another action blockbuster that his him collaborating with actor Nicholas Tse (Raging Fire). I am particularly looking forward to seeing this. Not only did the background footage look extremely promising it also features action choreography by Nicholas Tse himself. It will be interesting to see what he has picked up along the way of his career considering he has worked with some of the best in the business such as Jackie Chan, Donnie Yen and the late Benny Chan.

In addition, there is still the unreleased Death Notice, another Louis Koo feature. This one went before the cameras way back in 2018 but has still yet secured a release date. Covid-19 has apparently been to blame for the delay, although time is now marching on. This is a shame as the film has some quality people involved. As well as Yau and Koo, it also boasts appearances from Hong Kong Cinema legends Simon Yam, Ray Lui and best of all Francis Ng. Fingers crossed it won’t be too long until this see’s the side of day.

But before these are released I would urge any action fans to give The White Storm 3 a chance, they won’t be disappointed by its winning mixture of quality action scenes and worthy performances.

Plot: 3.5/5
Acting: 4/5
Action: 4/5
Overall: 3.8/5


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