Purple Storm
(Ziyu fengbao) (1999)
Directed by Teddy Chan

Artistic & Entertainment Value
* * ½

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Todd (Daniel Wu), a terrorist working for the Khmer Rouge, is captured in Hong Kong. While torturing him, in order to extract information about Todd's superior, Soong (Kwok-Leung Gan), the police realize that their prisoner has lost his memory. The officer in charge of him, Ma Li (Emil Chau), then decides to use a psychiatrist, Shirley Kwan (Joan Chen), to brainwash Todd, to convince him that he is actually a secret agent investigating Soong's efforts to release a biological weapon capable of killing millions. Unfortunately, although Ma Li is able to put his plan into motion, Todd becomes unstable when, having joined up with Soong, he learns about his deceased son from his fellow terrorist and former lover, Guan Ai (Josie Ho).

Teddy Chan's Purple Storm is a well made, generally fast paced, relatively complex film that is never really as involving as it could have been.

The movie's numerous action sequences, which consist of gun battles fought in various locations around Hong Kong, including dank, labyrinthine sewers, walkways crowded with pedestrians, and docks piled with crates and teaming with workers who are ready to be slaughtered, are nicely choreographed and reasonably exciting. They are not the best that I have encountered in any film, but they are likely to arouse a real sense of excitement in the viewer.

Regrettably, they are virtually the only part of Purple Storm that offers any interest. Although the film's story is fairly elaborate, because its emotional sequences are clumsily handled and its characters are poorly developed, it is simply not especially engaging. In fact, when the director attempts to show how Todd suffers because of the loss of his identity or the death of his son, he uses such overwrought, trite devices to convey the character's feelings that the viewer is more likely to laugh than he is to be moved. What is more, as all of the characters, both the protagonists and their enemies, are nasty, brutal, and often cartoonishly exaggerated creatures, the viewer is unlikely ever to be able to sympathize with any of them.

Lastly, I should note that the film is additionally burdened with a number of inconsistences in its narrative, a few painfully unfunny attempts at comedy, several awkward didactic intrusions, and a conclusion that is so ridiculous that it really does spoil the feelings of thrilling tension that the movie had previously conjured up. Even though these elements are not so severe that they ruin the whole of the movie, their presence can be intermittently distracting.

While Purple Storm's decent production values, intricate narrative, and violent gun fights do give it some appeal, its occasional faults and general mediocrity prevent it from ever being truly enthralling.

Review by Keith Allen

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