You might have already seen everything Herman Yau’s action thriller might have to offer before, but it still does a pretty good job.
“What do you want?”
“I tell you. There is 1,000kg of C-4 explosives here. Go out and tell those dogs I want the Government buy back the Western Harbour Crossing within the next 48 hours. Otherwise, I will kill the hostages and blow up this tunnel.”
Lately, I’ve seen a lot of subpar Hong Kong and Mainland Chinese thrillers, a lot of them fairly subpar both in action direction, plot and characters. When I came across this one I saw the same thing: a glossy, explosion-laden blockbuster trying to coast on the bankability of its star. Herman Yau, whose varied directing history rivals Johnnie To’s, is no stranger to both good and bad blockbusters, so it was frankly a bit of a toss-up. Was it any good? Well, let’s ignore the terrible CG explosions and have a look.
Andy Lau plays Cheung, a bomb disposal officer and superintendent of the Explosive Ordnance Disposal Bureau, who’s been undercover for a while in Peng Hong (Jiang Wu)’s criminal gang. Using bombs as distractions for robberies, the gang is apprehended by Cheung, but Hong gets away. Cheung is awarded a medal for his work, and meets Carmen (Song Jia), a teacher. Things seem to be going great, until Hong reappears a year later. He starts by laying bombs around Hong Kong, which Cheung is able to defuse in time, but then he reveals his master plan: block off the Cross-Harbour Tunnel, taking hundreds of hostages, and threatening to blow the tunnel at both ends, causing billions in damage and uncountable deaths. His request? A government buyback of another tunnel, and for his brother to be released. Naturally, Cheung is called in, as Hong will only talk to the man who locked up his brother in the first place.
What surprised me the most about Shock Wave was just how dark it ended up being. While Chinese films aren’t known to shy away from dark moments – see a few select scenes in New Police Story, or Sammo Hung’s Bodyguard – oftentimes they feel out of place, shoehorned in to make the movie edgier than it needs to. Rarely are these grim sections congruent with the rest of the film. Here, Yau gives us a movie that knows it’s dark from the get-go, playing everything completely straight. By doing so, the end result has high stakes and a lot of real tension. And while usually I would bemoan a film for taking so long to get to its main plot, the pacing of the first act of this film is surprisingly smooth. The tunnel doesn’t make an appearance until 40 minutes into this, but it’s a smooth enough ride until then that you don’t really notice the time pass.
Once we get to the tunnel, we’re introduced to a tonne of new characters in the form of hostages and I’ll be damned if I remember their names. They’re largely forgettable but they’re stock enough that you’ve seen the characters before in other films. There’s Tour Guide, Woman on Bus, Annoyed Driver and so on. The only one to really stand out is Babyjohn Choi’s Officer Wong (whose name I had to Google), who is given just one scene but completely smashes it. Choi is heartbreaking in his brief time on screen, and gives the movie the emotional push it needs at a time when it starts to drag on. No one else in the tunnel really has that presence, but we’re not here for them anyway. We want to see Andy Lau square off against a bomb-toting maniac.
And boy is Jiang Wu fun as Peng Hong, who later renames himself Blast. The writing, paired with Wu’s performance, gives what might have been a pretty generic villain some real meat. And while his motivation isn’t particularly groudbreaking, by giving him multiple demands (his brother, the buyback, etc), we get to see a few sides to this guy. He contrasts nicely to Lau’s Cheung who is very appealing a character but also somewhat two-dimensional. Yau fixes this somewhat by giving Cheung a lot of interactions with colleagues and Carmen, allowing us to attach ourselves to him before all the real shit goes down.
Shock Wave will never be free of its immediate and obvious comparisons to Die Hard with a Vengeance. From Blast’s mini bombs planted throughout the city, to his brother-centric robbery, they’re too blatant not to notice. It’s difficult to tell if any of it was intention – likely not – but it’s good to see that Shock Wave does something else with the premise than John McTiernan did. Where this picture suffers the most is in its genericness. It ticks all the boxes of a good action thriller, but never really tries to do anything extremely new. Shock Wave will never quite blow you away, but considering the circumstances, it’s probably for the best.
Verdict: Much better than I had pegged it, Shock Wave is entertaining, exciting and just a little bit predictable.
Overall entertainment: 7.5/10
Body count: Like a hundred?
Game of choice: Snake
Best shot of the movie: Andy Lau driving down the tunnel, screaming and firing a machine gun with one hand.
Shock Wave (2017)
Also known as: 拆彈專家, Shockwave Tunnel
Director: Herman Yau
Writers: Erica Lee, Herman Yau
Andy Lau – Cheung Choi-san
Jiang Wu – Peng Hong, “Blast”
Song Jia – Carmen Li
Philip Keung – Kong
Ron Ng – Ben
Leo Wang – Hung
Felix Wong – Officer Chow
Shek Sau – Wan
Liu Kai-chi – Yim
Cheung Chun-kit – Stephen
Louis Cheung – Lam Chun
Babyjohn Choi – Officer Wong