Except for Koo, none of the other contributors return for this standalone sequel; instead, taking over from Chan is prolific director Herman Yau, whose 'Shock Wave' catapulted him from the B-leagues into big-budget filmmaking. Yau's collaborators from that earlier movie are also on board this similarly-sized undertaking, which sees writers Erica Lee and Eric Lee retain the narrative structure of Chan's original by setting its events around three males - here played by Andy Lau, Koo and Michael Miu - whose paths will intersect with fateful consequences.
Their ill-fated connection is established right from the beginning, with an extended prologue set in 2004 that shows how the sworn brotherhood between Yu Shun Tin (Andy Lau) and Dizang (Koo) is torn asunder when the former is forced by his uncle Yu Nam (Kent Cheng) - and head of their gang Ching Hing - to punish the latter for selling drugs at the nightclub he manages. Besides cutting off three of Dizang's fingers from his right hand, Shun Tin also calls the police to raid Dizang's premises, which results in an unfortunate operation that claims the life of Narcotics Bureau chief Lam Ching-fung's (Miu) wife and colleague.
Fast forward fifteen years later, Shun Tin has transformed into a financial whiz thanks to his wife and mentor (Karena Lam), while Dizang has grown to become one of the most powerful drug barons in Hong Kong. Alas Shun Tin's past life continues to haunt him, including a drug-addicted teenage son he never knew existed until his ex-girlfriend (Chrissie Chau) appeals for his help on her deathbed to take care of, which in turn fuels his present-day determination to take drastic measures against the four big drug lords in Hong Kong - which besides Koo's Dizang, are represented in guest appearances by MC Jin, Cherrie Ying and Jun Kung.
Though Shun Tin is very aware that his actions will eventually set him up on a collision course with Dizang, it will be some time before Dizang finds out that it is his former best friend who is behind the series of guerrilla raids on his goods and factories. If you've seen the trailer, you would know that their personal vendetta will culminate in Shun Tin offering a $100 million bounty on Dizang's life. Meanwhile, even as he is frustrated by how the known drug lords continue to evade the arm of the law, Fung continues to uphold the integrity of due process, which puts him at odds with Shun Tin's unorthodox (and perhaps unlawful) methods.
Like his most recent 'Shock Wave' and 'The Leakers', Yau keeps the pace fast, even frenetic, throughout the movie. To Yau's credit, the speediness of the storytelling doesn't come at the expense of coherence, so there is perfect logic and order in the way the proceedings are organised. At the same time, it also means, for the casual viewer, that there is hardly a dull moment to be found within the duration of the film; in fact, even though there are a couple of memorable action scenes within, you'd probably feel as if the entire movie were itself a 100-minute continuous action-packed sequence that hardly pauses for you to take a breath.
But equally, it isn't long before you realise that the sheer momentum comes at the expense of meaningful character motivation and development, so much so that you never at any point fully grasp or empathise with any one of the three main characters, much less the supporting ones. How does Shun Tin feel about losing a sworn brother? Is he at all conflicted about exploiting his wealth to take the law into his own hands? How does he reconcile his past life with his present? What does Dizang feel about Shun Tin's betrayal? What drives Fung, other than to uphold the law? Does Fung sympathise with Shun Tin or deplore his methods? As inevitable as these questions are, you'll quickly find that you'll have to cast them aside if you're going to enjoy the film for what it is worth.
And yes, once you forgo any expectation of narrative or character depth, you'll probably be able to appreciate the fleeting pleasures it offers. For one, the three male leads each bring their own charisma, chemistry and gravitas to their respective roles, with Lau further honing his characteristically stoic persona, Koo chewing up the scenery as a baddie and Miu rehashing the righteous cop role from his TVB past. For another, the action is glorious old-school Hong Kong style, with shootouts, car chases and even a climactic setpiece right inside the heart of the Central MTR station. And last but not least, there is also the thrill of seeing a who's who list of Hong Kong actors in this, including Carlos Chan, Michelle Wai, Cheung Kwok-cheng, Lam Ka-tung and Sam Lee in varying blink-and-miss cameos.
Given how unrelated they are, it is almost unfair to compare 'The White Storm 2' with the earlier movie, but between them, the original is probably the better one. Yet, like we've said, this economical thriller does offer simple and straightforward gratification, especially if you're in the mood for an undemanding action thriller. But anyone expecting the likes of 'Infernal Affairs' will most certainly be disappointed, for there is little to no attempt to develop any of the weighty themes of crime and justice within in any meaningful way. If there should be another sequel, we hope it is a lot less superficial than this storm in a teacup.