In the South China Sea, a large suspicious package is dropped off via helicopter, sometime later being recovered by a small armed group led by a volatile man named Suchat (Sean Lau). The package is the latest shipment of drugs from “The Golden Circle”, Suchat’s smuggling operation that seeks to distribute throughout Hong Kong.
Little does Suchat know that the entire night is a bust. His two most trusted enforcers, ‘Billy’ (Aaron Kwok) and ‘Wing’ (Louis Koo) are deep undercover agents set to take him down. As the trap is sprung, all hell breaks loose in an all-out gunfight during which Wing blows his cover and separately Billy is shot. Amidst the chaos, Suchat and a small amount of his men escape taking the wounded Billy (cover intact) with them. With nowhere else to run, the criminals flee to Thailand to the friendly arms of their Golden Triangle contacts.
Awaking injured and in a foreign country, Billy befriends a local villager, Noon (Ora Yang). This simple woman challenges his preconceptions of what the life of people who harvest poppy fields are like. Along with his growing fondness for Suchat, Billy starts questioning where his loyalties lie. All the while, Wing is bogged down in red tape and bureaucracy back home, unable to help his colleague. As Suchat makes moves to join forces with the local corrupt military Commander Dai Jinrong (Lo Ka Laung), it looks like things are building to an inevitable and violent explosive finale!
Although The White Storm 3: Heaven or Hell (掃毒3人在天涯) is the third instalment in The White Storm saga, the films each feature entirely original stories and characters. Even if they share some of the same actors, the main connection is their focus on stories related to the drug trade. But also paramount, they all feature a dynamic relationship and strained brotherhood between a trinity of characters on different sides of the law.
Written and directed by Herman Yau, this is not only his return to the franchise but it is the first film to be completely of his vision. Yau has become one of the most fascinating directors in Hong Kong cinema. His early work often being guilty pleasure, ultra-violent, sleazy exploitation films, he is now a powerhouse of big budget action cinema. A Hollywood comparison would be the rise of James Gunn or Peter Jackson from their indie horror origins.
As enjoyable as the previous films were, they had certain downsides as both had interesting premises but never fully lived up to their promise. The White Storm 3 is without a doubt the best in the series. Here, Yau‘s script flashes backwards and forwards in time, revealing more to the story and from differing perspectives. The first film attempted this but felt poorly paced at times but in a shorter runtime with this new instalment, Yau creates a truly epic saga combining spectacular action scenes with a fascinating 3-prong storyline thanks to its trio of A-list Hong Kong talent.
Series mainstay Koo makes his third appearance in the franchise, this time playing a new character a little older and wiser as the voice of reason. Compared to his role as antagonist in The White Storm 2, the difference is night and day. Newcomer Kwok again shows he is more than a mere singer turned actor with the most demanding dramatic role in the film by far. His character’s growing friendship with Noon, the beauty of the poppy fields and the moral ambiguity which goes with that being especially brave.
But it was Sean Lau who blew me away as the dangerous yet still somehow likeable drug runner Suchat. Lau also starred in the original White Storm yet he is so unrecognisable in his return, it took me a while to realise it was him. Against all morality, you actually want to see him succeed and this helps us understand what makes Suchat such an alluring charismatic criminal leader. Exactly the kind of person who would make an undercover cop forget who exactly the bad guys are.
The White Storm 3’s stunning action and fight sequences are worth the price of admission alone. Massive gunfights leave your ears ringing while cars are sent flying through the air with none of the sometimes-hokey CGI which dragged down its predecessor, I had a smile on my face for the entire finale.
Celebrating the 10th anniversary of the original film, The White Storm 3: Heaven or Hell (掃毒3人在天涯) is a thrill ride from start to finish. It boasts amazing and reportedly very dangerous action scenes, three star actors at the top of their game, and an intriguing plot to tie it all together. It’s not only the best movie of the series but so far one of my favourite movies of the year.