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).

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CALL OF HEROES (2016) review

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One of our most anticipated films of 2016, Call of Heroes is a neo-western set in China during the Warlords era (beginning of the 20th century). Blood-thirsty, demented Commander Cao (Louis Koo), son of Warlord Cao (Sammo Hung) rides into the village of Pucheng, where he kills three people at random. He’s arrested by sheriff Yang (Lau Chin Wan) and sentenced to death, but his second-in-command Zhang (Wu Jing) soon arrives, issuing an ultimatum to the people of Pucheng: to release Cao or to be massacred. But Sheriff Yang stands by his verdict, helped in the face of growing adversity by a wandering swordsman (Eddie Peng), who once was Zhang’s comrade-in-arms.

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WOLF WARRIOR (2015) review

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Wu Jing’s second film as a director after 2008’s Legendary Assassin, which he co-directed with his martial arts choreographer of choice Nicky Li Chung Chi, Wolf Warrior is also his first lead role in the seven years since that film’s release, and the first time he co-wrote a film. He plays Leng Feng, a sniper who is expelled from the army after he solved a hostage crisis by ignoring orders and shooting down the hostage-taker with a hazardous maneuver. While in confinement, he is approached by officer Long Xiaoyun (Yu Nan) with an offer to join an elite tactical team known as the Wolf Warriors. He accepts, and soon he’s in the forest with his new team for a field exercise. But things take a tragic and dangerous turn when they run afoul of a team of foreign mercenaries headed by Tomcat (Scott Adkins) and hired by an international criminal (Ni Dahong) seeking revenge for the death of his brother, who is none other than the hostage-taker killed by Leng Feng. While supervised by Long Xiaoyun from a control room, Leng and two of his comrades must retaliate for the death of one of the Wolf Warriors, and prevent the team from crossing the Chinese border again.

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FATAL CONTACT (2006) review

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In 2005, after a few false starts, Wushu champion Jacky Wu Jing finally made a dent in Hong Kong cinema by playing Sammo Hung’s creepy, deadly henchman in the superlative S.P.L.. The following year he was given the second lead role of his young career by director Dennis Law, a former property developper who had produced Johnnie To’s Election diptych. Wu Jing plays Kong, a martial arts champion from China’s national Wushu team, who’s spotted by shady triad types led by Ma (Eddie Cheung Siu Fai) during a tour of performance in Hong Kong. As they offer him to fight for them in underground boxing matches, he initially refuses but ends up accepting when pushed by the lovely Siu Tin (Miki Yeung), who also offers to act as his agent. Assigned to assist them is Captain (Ronald Cheng), a down on his luck triad goon who’s also well-versed in martial arts and starts coaching the naïve Kong. The fact is that Kong is first and foremost a showman, and as he’s faced with opponents of escalading brutality, he must learn to tap into his beastly side, something that makes his rise in the underground boxing network akin to a descent into hell.

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BADGES OF FURY (2013) review

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With Jackie Chan celebrating his filmography’s milestones by adding new installments to his most successful franchises, and Donnie Yen getting busier than ever on a variety of action-heavy projects, it’s puzzling to see the wildly different turn Jet Li’s career has taken. Choosing, admirably, to focus on his charity (The One Foundation) and his Tai Chi promotion (Taiji Zen), he has been content for a few years now to appear as a benevolent supporting actor (though always top billed) in films that woefully underuse him both as an actor and as a martial artist. Badges of Fury unfortunately continues that disappointing trend. The real lead here is Wen Zhang, as a cocky young cop who, paired with veteran Jet Li and under the supervision of superior officer Michelle Chen, investigates on a series of murders in which the victims all die with a smile on their face. They cross paths with a stuttering insurance agent (Wu Jing), a whimiscal mob boss (Leung Kar Yan), a Men In Black type supercop (Huang Xiaoming), and many other cameoing stars, but the murders all trace back to an actress who has dated all of the victims (Liu Yan), and her sister (Liu Shi-Shi) who has made a habit out of stealing her boyfriends.

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TAI CHI II (1996) review

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Billed as a sequel of sorts to the great Tai Chi Master, Tai Chi II is actually not only narratively unrelated to the illustrious Jet Li/Michelle Yeoh pair-up (also directed by Yuen Woo-Ping), but also spiritually disconnected from it : there’s not much Tai Chi in it. It tells of Jackie, a young Tai Chi disciple (ok, that’s the main Tai Chi connection) who spends his time pissing off his parents (a likeable pairing of Yu Hai and Sibelle Hu in her last film role), a beautiful girl’s (gorgeous Christy Chung) current boyfriend (Mark Cheng), and more dangerously, a gang of opium smugglers led by an angry Gweilo (Darren Shahlavi) who spouts such penetratingly written lines as “Damn you devil Chinaman”. It is notable for being Yuen Woo-Ping last feature film as a director before a 14-year hiatus that ended with 2010’s True Legend. But it is also the feature film debut of Jacky Wu Jing, a national Wushu champion who once seemed destined to be the next Jet Li, but through some bad career management has for now ended up a very reliable and likeable martial arts supporting actor instead (he was recently superb in Benny Chan’s Shaolin).

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DRUNKEN MONKEY (2004) review

When Liu Chia-Liang, the legendary director/actor of the Shaw Brothers’ heyday, directed Drunken Monkey in 2003, he was coming off a nearly ten-year hiatus from movies, having last directed (and butted heads with) Jackie Chan in the indisputable classic Drunken Master II. He was 67 years-old and the kind of costumed martial arts movie he had been famous for (like My Young Auntie, Mad Monkey Kung Fu or The 36th Chamber of Shaolin, to name only a few) had been out of fashion for a long time. Indeed, thrillers about undercover cops or cgi-heavy action extravaganzas were all the rage, and Jackie Chan, Jet Li, Donnie Yen and Sammo Hung Kam-Bo were working mostly overseas. Sure, Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Zhang Yimou’s Hero had triumphed domestically as well as internationally, but they represented painterly wire-fu rather than the more down-to-earth, blistering brand of kung fu that Liu had been famous for.

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WIND BLAST (2010) review

To earn enough money to run away with his girlfriend Sun Jing (Charlie Yeung), Zhang Ning (Yu Xia), accepts an offer from a mysterious employer to kill a mob boss. As a safeguard, he secretly takes a picture of this employer. But having carried out the hit, he finds himself and his girlfriend chased through the Gobi desert not only by four policemen (Duan Yihong, Ni Dahong, Jacky Wu Jing and Zhang Li), but also by two mysterious bounty hunters (Francis Ng and Yu Nan).

Wind Blast is obviously directed by Gao Qunshu (who co-directed the great The Message) as a thrill-ride with overtones of the western genre, be it the barren landscape in which everything unfolds or chases on horseback and mexican stand-offs. The story itself is pared down to its essentials, and Gao does a good job (he also wrote the film) of slowly revealing the dynamics that exist between the characters of this ensemble. It helps that he has a great cast to work with : the quartet of cops makes for an endearing team with Duan Yihong charismatic enough as the purposeful cop, Ni Dahong on fine form as the wise but jaded superior, Zhang Li striking in a long white coat, and a very fun Jacky Wu Jing as an almost childish auxiliary who insist on being called “Knight”. Yu Xia is an ambiguous presence as the fugitive, but you could say Charlie Yeung is wasted in a nothing role as her long-suffering girlfriend. But the real sparks come from Francis Ng and Yu Nan as the bounty hunters. Ng rocks a strange haicut (for a change…) and is his reliable self, providing the quartet of cops with a rather formidable opponent, while Yu Nan takes a very thinly written role and makes it a force to be reckoned with her almost reptilian menace offset by a sullen demeanor. Watching her here as a kick-ass hitwoman, it’s not difficult to understand why she was cast as a member of the Expendables in the second film.

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LEGENDARY ASSASSIN (2008) review

  With Jackie Chan, Jet Li and Donnie Yen approaching their fifties or even sixties, and looking to extend their acting ability as a way of staying relevant (which all three did superbly), the world of movie martial arts has been in dire need of a new beacon. For a while it looked like Tony Jaa was the heir apparent, with films like Ong Bak 1 & 2 and Tom Yum Goong displaying his amazing abilities. But his output has been both surprisingly sparse and strangely compromised by shady ties with the Thaï mob. But one other name deserves mention, that of Jacky Wu Jing. Wu was spotted in the mid-90’s by the great Yuen Woo Ping, but apart from two minor films, he didn’t do much in that decade to get himself known. But at the beginning of the noughties, he started cropping up in a variety of supporting roles where he more often than not played the “silent but deadly henchman with a strange hairstyle”. Films such as Wilson Yip’s S.P.L. (where his alley fight against Donnie Yen became an instant classic), Benny Chan’s Invisible Target and Dennis Law’s Fatal Move firmly put him on the map, but in order to really leave a mark, he would have to become a leading man, and Legendary Assassin was in 2008 his second attempt at that (the first one being Dennis Law’s Fatal Contact in 2006).

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