Shock Wave 2 opens with the nuclear destruction of Hong Kong’s largest airport and ends with an explosive event somehow even more excessive. The third act alone makes most Western action films of the last decade seem sterile and unimaginative. Christopher Nolan, take notes. Nothing is small-scale in Shock Wave 2: No emotion is too fraught, no setpiece too huge and no explosion too fiery. Even the central melodrama about amnesiac hero cop Poon Shing-fung (Andy Lau) seeking to figure out whether he became a terrorist before losing his memory feels larger than life. Just two hours of absurd excitement and action silliness.
Poon Shing-fung was a heroic EOD (Explosive Ordinance Disposal) cop who held a reputation for being the best of the best. He and his partner, Tung Cheuk-man (Sean Lau), practically built their unit within the Hong Kong Police Force … until an accident took Poon Shing-fung’s leg and bureaucratic drama killed his career. Offered a desk job, he quit the force. Five years later, he’s found unconscious at the site of a large bombing by the terrorist group Vendetta. When he awakes, he can’t remember anything about his past life but comes to learn that Pong Ling (Ni Ni), his ex-girlfriend and fellow cop, is willing to guide him out of the wilderness.
Whether or not Poon Shing-fung actually joined Vendetta, or was working as a confidential informant for Pong Ling, is a mystery with the briefest lifespan here. Nothing is particularly subtle or given time to grow in the script by director Herman Yau (who co-wrote with Erica Li and Eric Lee). The story is all energy. Revelations (often via flashback) come fast and furious throughout. It causes the middle act to drag a bit, but the big action payoffs are more than worth it.
Yau also directed the first Shock Wave, which also starred Lau in a similar role. Fear not: Shock Wave 2 is a sequel in name only, with no relation to the first film. It’s a spectacle, a big-budget and hyper-violent movie that feels oddly refreshing for the fact that so many of the actors actually seem to be actively moving. There’s still something about Hong Kong action cinema traditions that just sings. Watching a man dive through panes of glass in a single tracking shot with grace and agility puts a smile on my face like little else.
There’s a moment at the end of Shock Wave 2, one that I don’t want to fully spoil but truly set my heart alight. It’s a classic Western-style faceoff between the hero and the villain. The kind of moment where the rivals truly see into each other’s souls. Maybe that seems like a standard moment to you, but the context in which it happens here is so deeply absurd, it borders on operatic. Action is the beating heart of cinematic language. Shock Wave 2 is a defibrillator in a year where most of the action spectacle has felt disappointing and far too reserved. It features everything you could want from a ballet of bullets, blood and nuclear explosions.