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Purple Storm (1999)

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-Daniel Wu
-Emil Chow
-Joan Chen


Todd (Daniel Wu) is the son of infamous Cambodian terrorist Soong, who wishes to unleash a deadly chemical weapon on Cambodia in his plans for revolution. During a delivery, Todd is injured and loses his memory. He is picked up by the police. After a psychologist delves into his subconcious through hypnosis, she convinces the police to let her use her knowledge of the unconcious mind state to give Todd false memories, so he will work for the police. He is trained to believe that he was an undercover cop working against Soong. But, when some true memories come back, which side will he choose?


Purple Storm is your standard terrorist-conspiracy action film. With Hong Kong film tradition and the higher production values of a recent HK film, it certainly raises itself above your average Hollywood entry into this genre. The main gag of this film is the moral questions raised by the "reprogramming" of Todd's memories. It is a solid film, but lacks a certain grasp that a truly great film of this type needs to climb to the top. Still, it is an above average effort that makes for some good viewing.

The main question that this film will make you ask yourself is "Is it okay to falsify the memories of a bad person, to make them work for a good purpose?" In fact, you will later ask yourself if a bad person who loses his memory can choose to take on a new life as a good person. These questions are the main draw of the film and what makes it stand out from many other action films. Even knowing that he was doing bad things, one can not help but question the morality of lying to him about his identity and giving him false memories. There is also the hope that he will eventually choose to run with his new life and become a good person. These questions are pervasive throughout the film and make it interesting, but not "preachy."

One of the film's downsides, though, is its inability to grab the viewer. While the moral questions raised are interesting, the viewer does not truly become attached to any of the characters. Some of the subplots, such as that of Todd's son, are also underdeveloped. The plot structure is at a reasonable pace to keep the viewer's attention, but it does flow like so many other similar films, which makes it feel generic at some points. The performances of the actors, themselves, were solid, but not amazing. All in all, the plot definitely has a lot to it and is better than many similar films, but it needed some tweaking to truly grab the viewers.

Action is solid HK fare. Lots of shootouts and a little martial arts. The shootouts look like those of many HK films and are shot in an appropriately realistic style rather than an overly dramatic style. This may not make for the tension of a "heroic bloodshed" film, but is more fitting here and done as well as one would expect from a modern HK film. The little bits of martial arts are also done more realistically, and are kept to a couple punches, kicks, and grabs here and there. Overall, the action is solid stuff that is appropriately conservative for this type of film.

Purple Storm has some good things going for it, but it also lacks the personality to become a classic. The moral questions of the plot and the nice production values certainly give it a boost. If only it could have packed in a little something that grabbed viewers, it would be much, much better. Still, this is one of the better entries into the genre and you could do much worse than to check this title out. If you are looking for some solid action films in this vein, make sure to get "Shiri" above all, and then afterwards, you may want to give the solid "Purple Storm" a shot.


-Teddy Chan


-Original Cantonese/Khmer language.