Cold War II
Hong Kong (2016) Dirs. Lok Man Leung & Sunny Luk
Back in 2012 Cold War was Hong Kong’s highest grossing domestic film which, along with the cliffhanger ending, encouraged the team behind it to pursue a sequel. Four years later the wait is over and we return to Asia’s safest city and the continuation of this crime thriller saga.
Newly appointed Police Commissioner Sean Lau (Aaron Kwok) is forced to release Joe Lee (Eddie Peng) from prison in exchange for his kidnapped wife Michelle (Ma Yili). Lee manages to escape during the exchange, this mishap leading to an official inquiry by the Legislative Council. Edward Lai (Waise Lee), looking for a high ranking position in the force engages retired high court judge Oswald Kan (Chow Yun-fat) to head the inquiry.
Meanwhile Joe reunites with his father M.B. Lee (Tony Leung Ka Fai), the soon-to-be retired cop who shopped him in the first film. Joe reveals that he is working for an IT consortium co-headed by former Police Commissioner Peter Choi (Chang Kuo-chu) and they are prepared to oust Lau from his job and give it to M.B in order to continue with their illicit dealings.
It helps to have seen the first film to get an idea of the fierce rivalry between Lau and M.B but with the four-year gap between releases, those of us without phenomenal memories needs to revisit Cold War to fully understand the nuances that run beneath this sequel’s plot. The lack of substantial reminder is annoying but the film is easy enough to get into even with the blanks to fill in.
Having set the box office alight and scooped awards galore with the first film, co-directors Lok Man Leung and Sunny Luk slip effortlessly back into the driver’s seat and throw us back into the action immediately, their confidence clearly boosted by their rookie success.
But, like the first instalment, the script is overloaded with many subplots and concurrent threads which don’t receive sufficient attention to be fully realised and affect the way the characters relate to each other. Case in point, Joe’s escape from prison which precipitates the reunion with his father after M.B arrested him and M.B’s agreement to help both Joe and Choi.
There should be a lot of resentment to work through between father and son but they ostensibly reconcile with alarming immediacy, this expedience designed to keep the brisk pace up and to temporarily switch the focus elsewhere. Similarly, the feud between Lau and M.B is reduced to steely glares and cold words for the most part until – slight spoiler – Joe is killed by Lau before he can flee the country and M.B vows revenge.
So M.B goes from dutiful cop putting the law before family to a forgiving father and finally an aggrieved avenger inside the first thirty minutes. This alone should have been a central plot point around which the main story is built – although like its predecessor, there is a teaser at the end to suggest this isn’t over.
The other major concern is the inquiry against Lau, and Kan’s involvement. Despite his incorruptible integrity, he takes the case on, but M.B changing his statement of support for Lau to implicating him during the hearing causes Kan to suspect he is being used to facilitate a dodgy deal. So he sends his protégé Isabelle Au (the absurdly attractive Janice Man) to investigate M.B’s movements.
In between the odd shoot out, in which – again slight spoiler – Isabelle also perishes – most of the film focuses on the procedural deconstruction of the case against Lau, headed by ICAC investigator Billy Cheung (Aarif Lee), whilst keeping tabs on M.B on behalf of Kan, who has a vested interest in his dealings after Isabelle’s death, when he too unravels a few internal connections to Choi’s mysterious consortium.
Amounting to a procedural game of cat and mouse built around exposing corrupt among the upper reaches of the Hong Kong authorities, this may sound dull for those expecting to see violent high-octane action from their HK crime thrillers, so the script generously punctuates each act with explosive set pieces, causing each side to re-evaluate their campaigns.
The cavil for the audience is that we know most what is going on before Lau and his team discover it or figure it out, meaning there are few surprises or twists to keep the story going. Essentially for us, it is a matter of when, not if, Lau gets all the name and information he needs to crack the case depriving us of any real tension that his job and welfare is in jeopardy.
But, while the script overreaches itself in ambition, co-directors Leung and Luk create tension in other areas, namely the action sequences. There are some clever ideas executed, in particular the villains ingenious smokescreen to aid their escape from police capture, whilst we experience a gnarly, knife edge moment during a hostage scenario in the third act. A multi-vehicle pile-up in a tunnel is also expertly staged and executed.
Afforded a hefty budget, production values are top spec as you would imagine, the overall veneer is naturally polished and slick. The luscious camerawork capturing the beauty of Hong Kong, especially the night scenes, is particularly eye pleasing, giving extra energy through the swooping crane and drone shots.
The cast remain committed to their roles, with Aaron Kwok successfully moving into the esteemed veteran lead role after years of being the heartthrob, but it is Tony Leung Ka Fai who dominates in spite of the inconsistencies with his character. His measured and stoic approach makes M.B steely and ambiguous opposition for Kwok’s more sangfroid reading as Lau.
Perhaps it takes the sequel remit a bit too far by repeating the same script niggles from before, there is no denying Cold War II is prime big budget entertainment barely deviating from the HK crime thriller template, which is either a boon or a drawback as is your wont.