Cheung Choi-san (Andy Lau) is a senior officer in Hong Kong’s Explosive Ordnance Disposal bureau (EOD). Six months after helping foil a major bank robbery, he is confronted by that robbery’s escaped mastermind Hung Kai-pang (Jiang Wu) – who is holding Hong Kong’s Cross-Harbour Tunnel hostage and seeking revenge.
Shock Wave is a new Hong Kong action-thriller from cinematographer turned director Herman Yau. It presents a slick, well-shot populist blockbuster, and to be honest feels like something of a step up in Yau’s career. Thus far his career has been dominated by relatively mid-range B-movies. By contrast Shock Wave has clearly had quite a bit of money thrown at it. It does not come with any outstanding surprises or creative angles, but as a straight-forward action vehicle for Lau it is a commendable new entry in the ranks of Hong Kong action cinema.
To a large degree Shock Wave has been plotted as a series of riffs on Hollywood cinema, and well-viewed fans of American action flicks will be spending half of the film picking out which elements have been stolen from which films. From an opening bank robbery that echoes The Dark Knight (replete with clown masks) to the tunnel disaster of Daylight to the bomb disarmer versus bomber schtick of Blown Away, Shock Wave is an unashamedly derivative work; even with the higher production values Herman Yau’s exploitation roots are never buried too deeply.
Andy Lau plays Cheung with the expected level of nobility and self-sacrifice that one tends to see from all Hong Kong action heroes. The film does give him a broad range in which to work, however, with some early romantic scenes allowing him to deliver a bit of comedic relief, and some of the more harrowing moments showcasing his dramatic talent. As the villainous Hung, Jiang Wu (younger brother of noted actor Jiang Wen) actually shows a surprising amount of restraint. He is certainly playing an exaggerated character, but a lesser actor would have pushed Hung’s excesses to an extreme, and Jiang is clever in sitting right on that magical line between over-the-top and over-acting throughout the film. There are also some good supporting performances, including Song Jia as Cheung’s fretful girlfriend Carmen and Babyjohn Choi as Wong – an off-duty police officer in that classic ‘wrong place at the wrong time’.
Yau successfully elevates the film above the rank-and-file of generic action films by giving Shock Wave a genuine sense of risk and danger. Characters die, sometimes in quite unexpectedly graphic ways. There is no guarantee that anyone will survive Hung’s hostage crisis: not Wong, not Carmen, and not even Cheung. It is a typical quirk of Hong Kong action cinema that stands as one of the genre’s strengths. The stakes always seem higher in a Hong Kong action flick. The body count always seems more likely to rise.
Ultimately there is nothing to Shock Wave that is going to make it stand out in exception to the crowd, and admittedly it does leave behind one or two hanging plot threads that Yau (who also co-wrote the screenplay) forgets to resolve, but for fans of Andy Lau and Asian action cinema it is very much worth a viewing. It’s commercial fare to be certain, but executed in an effective and ultimately very entertaining fashion. In the end that’s all a film like this is aiming to do.