WOLF WARRIOR II (2017) review

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Two years after the unexpected success of Wolf Warrior helped him regain leading man status, Wu Jing is back as a co-writer, director and star  for the sequel, bolstered with a much bigger budget, and input from the Russo Brothers (of Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Avengers: Infinity Wars fame). He once again plays elite soldier Leng Feng of the Wolf Warrior Squadron: disgraced after nearly killing a man who was threatening the family of a fallen comrade, he is also grieving the loss of the woman he loved, his superior officer Long Xiaoyun (Yu Nan), who was killed during a mission in Africa. Now, Leng is living a quiet life by the sea in Africa, but the harsh reality catches up with him when civil war tears the country apart, with a rebel army killing men, women and children. With the Chinese army unable to intervene or extract the small Chinese community that lives in the country, it is left to Leng to find and rescue a Chinese doctor who’s been working on a vaccine for a deadly virus that has been plaguing this part of Africa. Along the way, he meets doctor Rachel (Celina Jade), and must contend with a team of ruthless international mercenaries headed by Big Daddy (Frank Grillo).

Though it has many of the same flaws, Wolf Warrior II is a marked improvement on the first film, which was a poorly-written, thinly-veiled recruiting film for the People’s Liberation Army, and more damningly, was underwhelming as an action film. Sure, this second installment is not much better-written: constantly hammering home the heroism of its lead (this is a true vanity project for Wu Jing) and the evilness of its villains, trying to wring poignancy from third-world tragedy, dispensing simplistic exposition through random characters, displaying a very tenuous grasp of logic and causality, its sense of drama is so broad that Michael Bay might feel insulted, and its attempts at levity are mostly along the lines of “African people sure are jolly!”. But mercifully, the propaganda angle is much less omnipresent and jarring than in the first film, “reduced” here to a kind of muted jingoism: a few references to the excellence of the Chinese army are made, and in one scene Wu Jing amusingly becomes a human flagpole (guess which flag). With the hero now out of the army and going solo (as Chinese forces cannot intervene), the film can simply not play out as a recruiting advert. There is, however, an unsubtle dig at Chinese expatriates who dare to forsake their Chinese nationality, and a very serious final title-insert reassuring Chinese expatriates that their country is there for them in case of danger.

But the action is, predictably and thankfully, where the film soars. While the first installment had a weird scuffle with CGI wolves, some passable jungle action, and a perfunctory knife fight between Wu Jing and Scott Adkins, this sequel is a barrage of delectably over-the-top action scenes handled by Sam Hargrave (fight coordinator of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, among others) and Wong Wai Leung (who recently worked on Operation Mekong). Right from the beginning, we’re treated to a quick, wildly implausible but refreshingly original underwater fight, and subsequently only pauses for ten minutes at a time before exploding into another set piece. There is, among others, a thunderous car chase through a slum, a relentless drone attack at a mill, an infiltration with a homemade crossbow, a full blown tank battle, and a brutal, blistering, raging final fight between Wu Jing and Frank Grillo that alone would be worth the price of admission. Unsightly CGI blood and a few poorly-rendered explosions or crashes aside, this is a gloriously unhinged spectacle, crisply edited by the ubiquitous Cheung Ka Fai.

In front of the camera, Wu Jing confirms that he has finally come into his own as a leading man, confidently charismatic, unafraid of emoting wildly (and often efficiently), and as always, mesmerizing when fighting. It’s good to see him reunited with his Legendary Assassin co-star, the ever-appealing Celina Jade, as the two share an endearing chemistry. Frank Grillo, saddled with a stock mercenary character and not a hint of a backstory, nevertheless brings a raw brutality to the role that does wonders in the aforementioned final fight. And one of the film’s pleasures is how it reinvents esteemed character actor Wu Gang as an action hero, wreaking havoc with an AK-47 and a wry smile. Yu Nan, who was already underused in the first film, is this time relegated to a handful of fleeting memories, though she’ll probably have more to do in Wolf Warrior III (confidently announced, as in Wolf Warrior, by a final title, this time with a head-scratching post-credits scene in addition). And a third film is actually a welcome prospect.

Long Story Short: As cheesy and simplistic as its predecessor, though less steeped in propaganda, Wolf Warrior II is nevertheless a marked improvement when it comes to spectacle; a glorious barrage of over-the-top action scenes. ***1/2

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3 Comments

  1. ZackyVWasin

     /  July 27, 2017

    Cool review!
    Can you explain more about big daddy?
    If I was going to watch it because of him, I’m not gonna dissapointed right?
    Does Frank play him wonderfully?

    Reply
    • Well, he doesn’t have that much screen time, and his character is very thinly-defined, but Grillo makes the most of it, and his final fight is a thing of beauty. If you go, let me know what you thought!

      Reply
      • ZackyVWasin

         /  July 27, 2017

        Awwww, Thanks to reply
        I thought he will have much screen time since he’s a big boss
        And he’s the only thing I care about this film TBH

        Reply

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