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Monday, March 6, 2017

Review: COLD WAR 2 Still Heats Up The Old Hong Kong Magic


In 2012, the original Cold War served as a proclamation to the world that Hong Kong could still produce a rock solid thriller. It was a tense film that relied on plot and characters to drive the suspense and used action sparingly whenever the situation reached an impasse that only ballistic violence could solve. Cold War was easily one of the most entertaining thrillers of the decade, yet its resolution left a few narrative threads dangling. As it turns out, those threads weren't an oversight; they would form the basis for the film's even more thrilling sequel.


The original film dealt with a Hong Kong Police emergency: several officers and a van full of valuable equipment are ambushed and taken hostage. What set the film apart from other police thrillers was that it focused not just on the conflict with the kidnappers but on an internal power struggle within the Police Force. Department veteran M.B. Lee (Tony Leung Kai-Fai) steps up to the role of Commissioner (the true Commissioner is out of country) and enacts operation: Cold War to save the kidnapped officers and minimize damage. The younger, more politically savvy Deputy Commissioner Sean Lau (Aaron Kwok) doesn't think Lee is capable of handling the crisis and sets about taking the reigns and leading the operation his way. It's an angle that few police thrillers take and it helped to elevate it above its genre contemporaries. Little did anyone realize, this would be the setup for an even bigger story.

The marketing for this film is somewhat misleading: like its predecessor, Cold War 2 is less of a bullet-fest and more of a chess game. The film's breakneck pace will keep you glued to the screen as Lau and Lee continue to try to outmaneuver each other. The plot never stops moving and demands your full attention as it weaves through the tangled conflict. When the chess game turns violent, the action is grounded yet beautifully executed. Most of all, it feels earned. The stakes and tension are so high that even an action scene that doesn't directly involve any of the main characters is compelling. Not many action movies can pull that off. Of course, not many action movies are this well written.

The film's cast is quite extensive and it sometimes becomes a chore to keep track of who everyone is. All the surviving characters from the original return here, with the film opening almost immediately after the events of the first. The biggest addition to the cast, though, is Chow Yun Fat as legislator Oswald Kan. Serving as an outsider who feels the HK Police are in need of reform, he observes and eventually investigates the battle between Lau and Lee when he suspects a conspiracy. Chow bleeds charisma; effortlessly stealing every scene he's in. Thankfully, the film utilizes him well as an actor and not just marquee value (this is a long way from Dragon Ball: Evolution). One can only hope that he returns for the inevitable sequel.

Cold War 2 [Blu-ray]
The only real drawback of this film is the fact that you have to watch the original to really get the most out of it. Fortunately, the original is a great film and is currently streaming on Amazon Prime and Hulu so GET ON THAT. It's somewhat comforting to know that, even as the Chinese film industry conquers the world, Hong Kong filmmaking is still on point. Much like the original, this film leaves a few dangling threads for its inevitable sequel to pull. If the story can maintain its current momentum, we may all be in for a hell of a trilogy.

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