The first Shock Wave, released in 2017, was a terrific, riveting and subversive actioner about a stand-off in a blockaded Hong Kong tunnel. Its sequel sees the return of both producer-star Andy Lau and writer-director Herman Yau, but instead of following up on the events of the first film, instead they have created new characters and devised a whole new story.
The biggest connector between the films is the same style of furiously paced white-knuckle action, because while the second Shock Wave misses out on a lot of what made the first work so well – a taught script, a menacing villain, unexpected plot developments – Hong Kong Destruction has plenty of high-energy action that, for much of the way, is entertaining and engaging, and though more generic is linked by a more complex plot than the first.
Shock Wave 2 begins with Hong Kong Airport going up in a giant fireball. Not a real one, though, it’s a look at what will happen unless bomb disposal and explosives expert Poon Shin Fung (Lau) has anything to do with it. When we first see him, he is seemingly in the middle of dealing with a string of terrorist attacks, but calmly and confidently diffusing explosives and saving those in harm’s way.
That is until one job goes wrong and he is left with life-changing injuries. Fung is undeterred, though, wanting to get back on the job ASAP. He comes out of rehab in better shape than anyone on the force, but his superiors are hesitant to have him back on the force. Despite the continued support of colleagues, his best friend Tung (Sean Lau) and girlfriend Pong (Ni Ni), he grows angry and resentful.
The film then flashes forward five years, where Hong Kong is under threat of a new terrorist cell Vendetta, who have very personal reasons for doing what they do. Fung is now off the force but circumstantial evidence and being at the scene of a bombing, he becomes a major suspect. He would defend himself, but the blast leaves him with amnesia, and so is unable to defend himself when accused.
In order to clear his name, Fung has to piece together the gaps in his memory and what led him to this moment. His investigation completely flips the script, opening up a whole host of new revelations which leaves Fung with newfound internal conflict and changes his view of those he thinks he can trust. It also shows, contrary to what he thought, he does have a connection to the head of Vendetta, a character known only as Maverick (Tse Kwan-Ho).
While sound enough, the script does have its fair share of clichés and contrivances. The film is foremost there to deliver on action, which is does, but at the expense of its own realism and by the final half hour it starts to wander into self-parody. Some of the dialogue sounds like it was written by the Hong Kong tourism board and there are some poor exchanges, such as “Even though I only have one leg, you have to stick by me.”
Shock Wave 2 also finds some time to be sensible as well. It was interesting to see that the film doesn’t take its subject matter lightly, always making it clear how dangerous bombs are. Whenever a character goes in to try and diffuse a bomb, they are aware they are in very real danger, the explosives they are handling could easily kill them. That the film is not frivolous with life gives it added layers of tension and the action is not gratuitous and more responsive as a result.
It’s not here to deliver a lecture on public safety, though, and action is once again king. It’s not just confined to bomb scenes either, with set pieces also taking part on highways, in the air and on high-speed rail. Aside from a long mid-section which endeavours to further explain the plot, the pace doesn’t let up and there is never too long a stretch without an action beat.
What’s more, Lau gets to flex his acting muscles a bit more in this sequel, but its impressive that, now in his sixties, he is able to still make a credible action hero. While there are moments when he has clearly let his stunt double step in for him, the rest of the time he still commands the screen with his presence and multi-layered performance. He is an exceptional talent and fully deserving of his superstar status in Hong Kong, with Shock Wave being the right platform for an actor of his calibre and abilities.