Director: Lok Man Leung, Kim-Ching Luk
Cast: Chow Yun Fat, Aaron Kwok, Tony Leung Ka Fai, Eddie Peng, Charlie Young, Janice Man, Aarif Rahman, Yo Yang, Bibi Zhou, Fan Zibo, Wu Yue, Chang Kuo Chu
Runtime: 1 hr 50 mins
Rating: PG13 (Some Violence)
Released By: Encore Films & Golden Village Pictures
Opening Day: 8 July 2016
Synopsis: “Cold War”, the codename for the rescue operation of the five kidnapped police officers, is deemed a partial success. Despite the political outcry, the risky rescue led by Acting Police Commissioner Sean Lau (Aaron Kwok) gains him promotion to the highest rank in the police force, yet causes Deputy Police Commissioner Waise Lee (Tony Leung Ka Fai) his reputable career. Joe Lee (Eddie Peng), son of Waise and the sole suspect of the kidnapping, is captured and taken into custody. The case remains an unsolved mystery, and Sean is hell-bent on uncovering the details.
Sean’s family gets in the crossfire, forcing him to make the toughest decision of his life: exchange Joe’s freedom for his family’s safety. With his career now on the line, Sean faces an impeachment proceeding that includes Osward Kan (Chow Yun Fat), an influential senior counsel and an independent member of the judicial council. He becomes the key figure in determining Sean’s fate, and it is unknown whether he is friend or foe. Sean’s adversaries within the police force, in an attempt to bring down his career, are desperate to get Osward on their side. With enemies moving from the street and into the political arena, the real kingpin, who has been lurking in the dark all along, is slowly bringing his masterplan into play.
Not since ‘Infernal Affairs’ has a born-and-bred Hong Kong police thriller like ‘Cold War’ resonated with critics and audiences alike, which broke new ground for the familiar crime procedural by fusing strong character drama, thrilling gunplay and gripping political machinations into a taut and thought-provoking actioner. Despite taking four years to arrive, this sequel again co-directed by Longman Leung and Sunny Luk picks up immediately following the events of its predecessor, opening with a grand send-off by the Hong Kong Police Force for Gordon Lam’s deceased Senior Superintendent Albert Kwong and a solemn reminder by Aaron Kwok’s Police Commissioner Sean Lau at the funeral proper of the Force’s public service obligations. And yet, it is Commissioner Lau himself whose convictions will be put to the test when he receives a call right after from a masked assailant holding his wife captive and demanding the release of Eddie Peng’s disgraced cop Joe Lee.
Until it became clear that his very son Joe was behind the missing Emergency Unit (EU) van and the hostage crisis which precipitated the titular operation previously, Tony Leung Ka-fai’s Deputy Commissioner of Police Operations M.B. Lee was vying for the top post with then-Deputy Commissioner of Police Management Sean Lau (Aaron Kwok), the former beloved by rank-and-file while the latter unpopular for his bureaucratic actions and attitude. Not only did he eventually turn his son in, M.B. Lee also announced that he would be stepping down to take responsibility for Joe’s misdeeds, thus paving the way for Sean to assume the role of Commissioner. Not that Sean therefore has it easy – after breaking protocol by transferring Joe to Police HQ from prison and then letting him slip away amidst a bomb scare at a crowded MTR station, the newly-minted Commissioner finds himself in the crosshairs of a judiciary committee appointed by the territory’s Legislative Council.
That is where Leung and Luk, who co-wrote the script with Jack Ng, insert the highest profile addition to the ensemble cast. None other than Chow Yun-fat is the retired High Court judge Oswald Kan, who signs up for the committee after being persuaded by Justice Secretary Edward Lai (Waise Lee). Kan objects to Sean’s methods, but suspects there is a much bigger plot when M.B. Lee upsets the impeachment proceedings on day one with surprise allegations of corruption against Sean. Indeed, M.B. Lee himself is courted by former police chief Peter Choi (Chang Kuo-chu), who reveals that he and a bunch of other influential politicians have slowly but surely been tightening their screws on a masterplan aimed at securing political control of Hong Kong, one that involves installing the next Chief Executive of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Zone and Lee as the Police Commissioner. And oh, if it isn’t clear by now, Joe was simply doing Peter’s bidding all along.
But more than the web of conspiracy that will once again force the Force’s senior officers to take sides between Sean and M.B. Lee, the intrigue here belongs to the latter’s motivations, which remain fascinatingly ambiguous as a result of both tight plotting and Tony Leung’s riveting performance. Does M.B. Lee covet authority so much that he would agree to be a pawn in a larger nefarious scheme? Or is he only going along with the plan insofar as he needs to in order to bring its perpetrators to justice eventually? His allegiance is teased and tested throughout the entire film, even as a surprising series of twists and turns ups the stakes in his rivalry with Sean as well as his loyalty to a group of former Special Forces men (with Yo Yang playing their leader) whom have literally come back from the dead to do the dirty work necessary for his eventual ascension to power.
Compared to M.B. Lee, Sean is a much more straightforward character, so whereas the former is confronted with a test of integrity, it is Sean’s wits that are tested here, relying on a small but trusted team including Charlie Young’s PR head Phoenix Leung and Aarif Rahman’s ICAC officer Billy Cheung to stay ahead of his opponents before he is ousted in the same way that he had previously done to M.B. Lee. For the most part, the cat-and-mouse game between the two rival factions is tense and captivating, boasting a much more tightly plotted second half than its predecessor as it hurtles towards an explosive showdown that packs both visceral and emotional thrills. In particular, there is a much better grasp of the political overtones that became too overt and didactic the last time round, even as the intersection between the police and the legislative authorities is more pronounced here.
Just as accomplished is the action, once again directed by veteran Chin Kar-lok (who reduces his involvement to behind-the-scenes), especially a thrilling high-speed vehicular chase into a long, narrow underground tunnel that morphs into an intense shootout with course-changing implications for at least two of the key characters. And so, it is with the same mix of elements, combined with a tighter narrative, that makes ‘Cold War 2’ just as tense and poignant as its predecessor was. Even though one wishes that Chow had a bigger part to play at the end and that the door to a potential sequel were not so blatantly opened with a cop-out last scene (don’t worry, no spoilers here), this is as brilliant and accomplished a sequel as one would expect to one of the best Hong Kong crime thrillers of recent years. Oh, Andy Lau doesn’t return for this sequel if you’re wondering, but between Aaron Kwok and Tony Leung Ka-fai, there is enough star wattage for this sequel to truly pop.
(As much a battle of wits as of character, 'Cold War 2' follows its predecessor's formula of fusing strong character drama, thrilling gunplay and gripping political machinations into a taut and thought-provoking crime thriller)