Shock Wave 2: Andy Lau returns in explosive blockbuster

Society & Culture

Herman Yau's blockbuster begins with a mini-nuke blowing up the Hong Kong airport. In case you weren't aware what you were watching, this is a film about explosions: either those that happen or those that threaten to.

Shockwave 2
Illustration for The China Project by Derek Zheng

Shock Wave 2 made its streaming debut in the American market last Tuesday. Despite the title, it is not in the same continuity as the first Shock Wave, which was praised for its action sequences, nominated for multiple awards, and shown at the Vienna International Film Festival. Both films, however, were written and directed by Hong Kong legend Herman Yau (邱礼涛 Qiū Lǐtāo), with all the intense action that implies, and both feature Andy Lau (刘德华 Liú Déhuá — Asia’s Tom Cruise, it’s been said) in the leading role as a bomb disposal expert.

Shock Wave 2 was the big tentpole release for Christmas weekend in December 2020, and did well at the Hong Kong box office. It has since accumulated an international box office of $200 million, and is also popular in the mainland: the fourth-best movie at the Chinese box office since its release. All this earned Shock Wave 2 distribution from cable providers and Sling TV in the United States. Not exactly a huge deal, but it’s rare enough for Chinese films to be distributed at all Stateside.

The film is openly described in marketing materials as a big, dumb, stupid blockbuster. It’s got amnesia, explosions, dueling bullet trains, skydiving, you name it. As far as technical stuff goes, it fulfills the promise of Shock Wave, with even bigger explosions. Yau opens the movie with a glorious and hilariously pointless explosion of Hong Kong International Airport, mostly just to prove that he can put it to film. Spectacle is definitely on the way.

But in the meantime, we have our surprisingly ambiguous hero, Shing-fung, who loses his leg in the line of duty. He turns against the police and society at large. And he actually has a legitimate grievance — he is treated as a lesser person for his disability. That’s a bit more social consciousness in this film than I would have expected! (Lau has served as vice president of Hong Kong’s Paralympic Committee.)

One timeskip later, we learn that Shing-fung appears to have been involved in a terrorist attack, and he doesn’t know why. Did he plant the bomb, or was he on the scene to defuse it? Post-traumatic amnesia, far from being a hackneyed plot device, begs a lot of questions about our sense of self. If we were to lose all our memories, do we also lose our sense of ethics and morality? But also, for the sake of this big, dumb, stupid blockbuster — what side is our hero on, exactly?

Herman Yau’s been in the Hong Kong film industry since the ’80s, and Shock Wave 2 has all the edge from that time period. It just also has the benefit of a bigger budget, put to excellent use, making for a fairly solid flick.