‘Where the Wind Blows’ Review: A Well-acted but Uneven Epic Crime Drama

where the wind blows review

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It sure feels like an eternity waiting for the arrival of the highly-anticipated ‘Where the Wind Blows’ – an epic Hong Kong crime drama about police corruption that marks the first high-profile collaboration between two screen veterans, Aaron Kwok, and Tony Leung Chiu-Wai. A little trivia about this long-delayed movie: It was originally known as ‘Theory of Ambitions’ back in 2017, with a tentative global release at the end of 2018. But the movie ran afoul of the ever-restrictive China censors, resulting in two years, on and off, to recut the scenes. It even suffered from bad timing when the mass 2019-2020 Hong Kong protests took place due to the controversial Fugitive Offenders amendment bill on extradition. The alleged police misconduct against the protestors was among the obvious reasons that caused the delay of the movie.

Now that ‘Where the Wind Blows’ is here, marking the return of Philip Yung since he last directed Aaron Kwok in 2015’s ‘Port of Call’ to his first-ever coveted Best Actor glory at the Hong Kong Film Award. The story takes place primarily during the turbulent British-era Hong Kong of the ‘60s and ‘70s, recounting the (loosely-based) true stories of Lui Lok, one of the four corrupted senior police officers who rose to the ranks in the Hong Kong police force. The other three include Nan Kong, Hon (Hon Kwing-Shum), and Ngan Hung.

Yung’s version sees the writer-director choose to focus more on Lui Lok (Aaron Kwok) and Nam Kong (Tony Leung Chiu-Wai). We first met Lui Lok in the beginning as a beat cop (Chui Tien-You plays the younger version) when he’s more of a righteous police officer who refuses to accept any bribes. Nam Kong’s (Lam Yiu-Sing) younger days are different by contrast. He was born to a wealthy family, and we learn about the time when a high-ranking Japanese soldier during the Japanese occupation of Hong Kong in the 1940s treated him like his own son and even taught him how to shoot a gun.

Then comes the post-war Hong Kong era, which marks a new beginning for Lui Lok and Nam Kong after they get acquainted and join forces to work their ways up to get promoted alongside fellow officers Yim Hung (Patrick Tam) and Fat-Bee (Michael Chow) and take control of the organized crimes and the Hong Kong police force.

Yung also introduces the Independent Commission Against Corruption, a.k.a. ICAC, a then-newly-established law enforcement organization in the mid-1970s, where the principal ICAC investigator George Lee (Michael Hui), is in charge of cracking down the police corruption.

If you expect ‘Where the Wind Blows’ to be something in the vein of the 1991 two-parter ‘Lee Rock’ starring Andy Lau and then-26-year-old Aaron Kwok as the titular character’s son or even ‘Infernal Affairs’, you’ll be left disappointed. Yung clearly isn’t interested in concentrating on what matters the most: police corruption. Sure, we get the parts where the dirty and corrupted cops involving in bribery and shady dealing with the triads, but there are all depicted in a perfunctory matter. More like an afterthought, to be exact.


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Instead, Yung prefers to shed more light on the personal lives of Lui Lok and Nam Kong, and he does so by evoking Wong Kar-Wai’s filmmaking style. The movie is filled with longing and lingering emotions, slow motion, and lots – I mean, lots of – cigarette smoke. We see how Lui Lok made his move on the Shanghainese statuesque beauty Choi Chan (Du Juan) with subsequent (odd) scenes of them tap-dancing on the streets like they are in the ‘50s or ‘60s Hollywood musical (no, I kid you not).

The visual aesthetics, covering from the lush production and costume designs to Chin Ting-Chang’s sumptuous cinematography, are top-notch. But all the sheer beauty can’t mask the fact that ‘Where the Wind Blows’ feels curiously hollow. The romantic angle between Lui Lok and Choi Chan is superficial and more so with Nam Kong and Cora, played by Jeana Ho, in a thankless role.

Just like ‘Port of Call,’ Yung continues to tell his story in a non-linear fashion. The story jumps back and forth so often that it can be confusing at times, especially if you are not paying enough attention. As for the cast, Aaron Kwok and Tony Leung Chiu-Wai deliver charismatic performances as Lui Lok and Nam Kong respectively. They have their own moments, but there’s a missed opportunity somewhere in between when the movie deals with their rivalry.

The long-missed Michael Hui surprises me the most with his scene-stealing supporting performance as the principal ICAC investigator, George Lee. In fact, he has the single greatest scene that overshadows the rest of the movie. A scene in a meeting room, where he gives a poignant speech about integrity and what the future may hold for the Hong Kong people. Tse Kwan-Ho shows up as the notorious drug kingpin, Crippled Ho – a role previously made famous by Ray Lui in the award-winning ‘To Be Number One’ and Donnie Yen in ‘Chasing the Dragon.’ He made quite an impression here, even though with limited screen time.

SCORE: 5/10

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