If you want to see incredible vehicular mayhem and tensely choreographed shootouts, then Wind Blast may be the film for you. If you would like to give half a damn about the people being chased and shot at...well, you may want to look elsewhere. While populated with some eye-catching set pieces, that all too familiar hollow feeling of watching an exercise in style over substance quickly takes hold and never lets go.
The story is fairly simple since it just involves 3 groups of people who take turns chasing each other across the Gobi Desert for a variety of reasons. First up, we have Zhang Ning (Xia Yu) and his pregnant girlfriend Sun Jing (Charlie Young). Zhang is a small-time crook turned assassin who is trying to make a quick getaway after his latest hit. Standing in his way is our second group, a set of dedicated cops: Leopard (Duan Yihong), Shepherd (Wu Jing), Mastiff (Dahong Ni) and Yak (Zhang Li). The final complication comes in the form of a couple of ruthless bounty hunters Mai Gao (Francis Ng) and A Nuo (Yu Nan).
The cops are after Zhang for obvious reasons (he is an assassin after all) while the bounty hunters have been hired by Zhang's latest client to track him down. It seems he took a picture of someone who didn't want to be seen and if he doesn't hand it over, he will pay dearly. The cops apprehend Zhang fairly early in the film only to lose him to the bounty hunters in a daring nighttime raid. Of course Zhang denies the bounty hunters what they are looking for until they retrieve his lady love who was left behind with the cops. This prompts even more brazen behavior as folks get snatched, plot elaborate escape plans, chase each other around in construction vehicles and (when all else fails) challenge each other to old-fashioned duels.
I'm guessing the mention of a duel tipped you off already but the film aspires to be an unholy genre mishmash of Chinese and Western elements. The blend doesn't always work but I have to give credit to writer / director Gao Qunshu for trying. The sparse sand-blasted desert setting is a huge asset to the film. It sets the atmosphere and says more about the stranded characters than their clunky dialogue ever does. It also gives the film a giant sandbox in which to stage a couple of excellent set pieces (the tense nighttime raid and the Molotov cocktail accented truck chase). While we're discussing positives let's also give a hand to the action choreography itself. The mayhem (mechanical and physical) is presented with such energy and efficiency that you almost forget how little you know or care about the folks onscreen.
Almost. And there in lies the film's main problem. For all the attention to detail that he lavishes upon blowing stuff up real good, Qunshu doesn't seem to care one bit for the characters he's created. Except for Wu Jing who gets to beat up a couple of baddies against the blare of rock guitars, no one else even gets a decent introduction. When not outright confusing (as in the case of the bounty hunters and their puzzling entry), the lack of context is at the very least deflating. If Qunshu thinks his terse approach lends an air of mystery, I would have to disagree. To make up for it he creates artificial conflicts so that his gun-shooting, grimace-wearing automatons can be humanized. Rather than fleshing out the characters, the effect is patronizing.
Qunshu has given us a film that sporadically entertains on a visceral level (whenever the characters shut up and get busy killing each other) but fails to justify the epic feel it is going for. Acknowledging that he had written cardboard cutouts and judiciously editing the film to a lean and mean runtime (it runs close to 2 hours right now) would have made it trashy fun. On the other hand, really fleshing out the characters and giving them meaningful interactions would have eliminated the questionable bits which drag the film down. By splitting the difference, Wind Blast ends up as a bloated diversion that is never as breezy or fun as its name would suggest.
The film was presented in a 2.35:1 aspect ratio with anamorphic enhancement. Given its desert setting, it's no surprise that the color palette skews heavily towards earth tones. The baked browns and oranges of the arid wasteland come through with clarity. A number of the night shots feature heavy grain but never to a distracting extent. There were no other major visual defects to speak of since the image was fairly sharp with adequate shadow detail.
The audio was presented in Mandarin 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround and Stereo mixes with optional English subtitles. I chose to view the film with the surround mix and was faced with a fairly loud and bombastic aural treatment. The numerous action scenes take center stage with thunderous explosions and roaring car engines. This is not to say that the mix handles the quiet moments poorly. The entire nighttime raid plays with very little dialogue and feels even more intense because of it.
A Making Of (25:04) featurette gives us a pretty good look at what went on behind the scenes of the film. Director Gao Qunshu guides us through his initial vision for the film and how that morphed over time. He describes the main characters and explains the overriding animalistic traits that the cops embody. He also goes into the varied stylistic elements and how they come together in the final product. Finally, a few segments are dedicated to describing the 5 main action set pieces that pop up in the film. This is followed by a Behind the Scenes (23:39) featurette that mainly consists of B-Roll footage. We close things out with a Trailer (1:31) for the film.
I find myself going between extremes on Wind Blast. The action scenes are expertly choreographed and play out with energy and intensity. Unfortunately every other scene of the film, you know, where the characters have to talk and stuff, feels tacked on and consequently falls flat. If spectacle is all you're after, then you'll find some of that here. I would suggest that you keep your expectations in check and Rent It.