A Case For Better Action Movies: WOLF WARRIOR (2015)

Obviously, the key to selling a film are its trailers, a fact that martial arts film fans largely regard, and there's no question that star power is factor. That said, the prospects of watching action star favorites, Wu Jing and Scott Adkins have been nothing short of electric in the wake of all the publicity for Wu's latest solo co-directorial debut, Wolf Warrior, set against the backdrop of mainland China's jungle setting with a nationalist-tone pitting a maverick soldier against a squad of deadly foreign mercs and their vengeful crimeboss leader. Sounds good, of course, and a great set up for a potential classic given the star power at our disposal...and unfortunately, that's all this film has.

The film takes off with Wu in the role of PLA soldier Leng Feng, an impetuous sniper who is court marshalled after breaking the chain of command and ensuing the fatal capture of Wu Ji (Zhou Xiaoou), a notorious drug dealer. His insubordinance, however, proves less worth penalizing in front of Wolf Warrior commander Long Xiaoyun (Yu Nan) and superior officer Shi Qingsong (Zhaoqi Shi), who see him more as a potential candidate for the aforementioned squad. Thus, he is initiated and greeted by the squad and it's ground leadership as training operations begin. At the same time, Wu's older crimeboss brother, Min Deng (Ni Dahong), has a deadly plan of avenge his brother's death with the help of specially trained foreign mercenary cohorts led by Tom Cat (Scott Adkins). Tom Cat leads the incursion on the otherwise unsuspecting Wolf Squad as his men advance onto Chinese territory, pinning Feng and his fellow wolves under fire, and it is only through sheer will and instinct that the Wolves forge through to take out Deng's men, with Feng leading point right down to a final confrontation that will ultimately determine his place as a soldier, as well as China's might.

Aside from his previous co-directorial effort on Legendary Assassin, Wolf Warrior was a great opportunity for Wu to take his directorial vision for martial arts action to a new level in his career, flaws notwithstanding, that is. In terms of its tone, it does attempt to blend the aesthetics of war drama with being a solid action movie between references to Feng's father, themes of life on the battlefield and the demons we face, in addition to flashback sequences on Feng's near-fatherless childhood. At the end of it all though, despite notable attempts to sustain the dramatic affect this was intended, it really feels more like an afterthought between what felt like Wu's mild charisma and somewhat thin acting, on top of the nuanced humor, machismo and silliness constructed to depict levity among the soldiers, and the film's multiple action sequences that invariably achieve what they were designed for: big guns and even bigger explosions - one in which a character stands directly in the middle of a hail of gunfire and an exploding house like he's completely invincible; it's one of the film's most ridiculous scenes by far will leave you shaking your head for the rest of the film.

Nan's acting was pretty good, in addition to her conversational chemistry with Wu, though I'd say that there wasn't much for her to achieve as well as much of the cast for what degree of depth it tries to apply. Some of the supporting characters help the film feel a little more redeeming, although the performances are generally textbook throughout film, and while the action is exciting to watch with Wu and Adkins spearheading some of the film's fist and footwork in the second act, their pivotal final fight scene leaves a lot to be desired. I get it: Wu had been through a lot at this point with having directed the film and even getting some injuries in the process, but for all the hype between the respective screenfighting abilities of both Wu opposite Adkins in what was expected to be nothing short of an amazing action scene, it felt nothing short of a prolonged fever pitch that might as well have never happened.

Action director Nicky Li can choreograph the hell out of a fight scene though, as his best work to date, in my opinion, is on the three-to-four way finale in the 2007 film, Invisible Target with Shawn Yue and Nicholas Tse, and I'm still looking forward to his work S.P.L. 2: A Time For Consequences next year when Well Go USA brings it to the U.S.. For now though, while fans may take comfort in the knowledge of seeing our two main action stars on the screen together in a film that nonetheless guarantees total popcorn fun with largely nothing serious to be taken, one can only hope that with Wu's recovery, this won't be the last. In wanting to love Wolf Warrior, this was a near let-down, so I advise caution with this one.

Enjoy it for the 90-some odd-minute-long spectacle that Wu devotes to this latest affair of jingoistic fun-filled soldiering on Asian soil, locked and loaded with brain-relaxant action for the Michael Bay crowd. But, in certain instances, if one has to struggle with the notion of wanting to love certain action film for its fandom and caliber despite its flaws, I would say that makes it a pretty terrible one. In that respect, let's hope Wu's next venture doesn't rely on pointless 3D augmentations, cartoonish villainy, bad CGI, lackluster fight sequences and name notoriety for its success, because these things are essentially what makes Wolf Warrior so damn terrible to watch.

And no, it's not a totally horrible film and it is rather watchable for all it's intents and purposes on top of its physically strenuous and bone-breaking efforts its star and director makes for his fans. That said, the film is just terrible in it's delivery, and even moreso makes a definitive case on why Wu needs to make better movies after this.


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