(South Korea 2016)
Original Title: Gokseong
Directed by Na Hong Jin Produced by Hyun Suh Dong, Kim Ho Sung
Starring: Jun Kunimura, Hwang Jung Min, Kwak Do Wan, Chun Woo Hee, Kim Hwan Hee, Jang So Yeon, Kim Do Yoon, Park Seong Yeon
Reviewing: Kaleidoscope/Well Go USA UK DVD Release
Genres: Horror / Mystery / Thriller
Rating - 4.5 / 5
DVD Synopsis: In this critically acclaimed and incredibly tense supernatural thriller, a foreigner's mysterious appearance in a quiet village causes suspicion among the locals – suspicion which quickly turns to hysteria, as the residents begin killing each other in brutal outbursts, seemingly without motive. As the hopelessy out-of-depth investigating officer watches his daughter fall under the same savage spell, he agrees to consult a shaman for answers – unknowingly escalating the situation. From the globally-acclaimed director of The Chaser and The Yellow Sea, and more than six years in the making, this meticulously crafted thriller is a stunningly realised, visual tour-de-force. Grippingly intense and terror-filled, it will keep you on the edge of your sofa throughout.
Views: With over 30 award wins and a further 50 plus nominations, The Wailing tells a tale about the small town of Gokseong that has been hit with a host of mysterious murders, illnesses, and happenings. As officer Jong Goo and his men reluctantly investigate the strange goings-on, he soon finds the very same problems following him home as he suffers from horrific nightmares and realises that his beloved daughter, Hyo Jin, is coming down with the bizarre illness. After his mother-in-law recommends a local shaman to help, Jong Goo heads out to find the home of a mysterious Japanese man who has been rumoured to be somewhat of a boogeyman to the locals. Accompanied by a fellow cop and a young priest who speaks Japanese, the trio come across an altar of sorts that includes hundreds of photos of townsfolk and victims – along with a single shoe that belongs to Hyo Jin! Returning home to get some answers from her, Jong Goo is shocked to find that his daughters attitude has changed dramatically, and comes across a book of hers filled with sketches of demons. Taking matters into his own hands, Jong Goo and the priest return to the Japanese man only to find the photographs missing, and altar removed. As things quickly get out-of-hand and Hyo Jin's condition worsens, Jong Goo quickly finds his life (and that of his family) on a downward spiral as brutal attacks, gruesome murders, and horrific actions quickly escalate resulting in a brutal shaman versus shaman stand-off that revives the dead and brings more horror to the town than ever before!
Blending some political social commentary with religious beliefs with old Korean folklore, writer and director Na Hong Jin manages to craft a tense and compelling tale that keeps you gripped for its two-and-a-half-hour running time. Shrouded in mystery and mysticism, The Wailing is a film of two halves with the first offering plenty of dark humour as its story builds before shifting into a second-half that proves to be extremely unsettling for the most part. From possessions to exorcisms, things can get more than a little heavy for the average viewer – even the shaman versus shaman battle just after the halfway mark is pretty frigging intense. Unlike that seen in the likes of Sammo Hung's Encounters Of A Spooky Kind, the Mr. Vampire series, or even the classic Black Magic from Shaw Brothers, this is a battle of magic in the darkest of ways that makes you cringe and hold your breath, as opposed to laugh and get excited like the aforementioned titles would make you do. But what else would you expect from the man behind such incredible films like The Chaser, and The Yellow Sea – and with only his third feature film?! It's an incredibly tense and well-written story that is so well done it can only explain why there was a 6-year gap between his second film and this...
Of course, only such an incredible story could be brought to life with the right cast and it's here that The Wailing makes sure it delivers a memorable one. Kwak Do Won stars as Jong Goo, the lazy cop who is easily intimidated and who's daughter has him wrapped around her little finger. Having just been in the business for just over a decade (at the time of writing), Kwak wasted no time in getting strong roles in some fantastic South Korean movies such as Mother, The Man From Nowhere, The Berlin File, and more. As Jong Goo, he delivers one of his best performances to date as he plays a bumbling cop and desperate father who is pushed to the edge in order to save his daughter. The wonderful Jun Kunimura, from films such as Kill Bill 1 & 2, Ichi The Killer, Audition, and Attack On Titan 1 & 2, leaves a lasting impression as 'the Japanese man' and the so-called devil to the story. Starring in what would be his first Korean production since his beginnings in the film industry over 40 years before, Jun offers up a menacing performance that sees him hide behind the corner of every twist and turn, resulting in a final scene that highlights the great work of the effects department in a transformation that I just was not expecting. The brilliant Hwang Jung Min appears as the shaman brought in to help save Hyo Jin, who soon finds himself up against a force he never expected, as well as bringing in his own twist to the story. Launching his acting career back in the early 90s, Hwang has gone on to appear in some amazing titles including A Bittersweet Life, Heaven's Soldiers, The Chase, Ode To My Father, New World, and The Battleship Island, which went on to make him the third actor in Korea to become a member of the '100 Million Viewer Club' in Chungmuro. It's safe to say that everyone involved gives an incredible performance to be honest, from Kim Do Yoon as the unfortunate young priest that finds himself getting in too deep and attacked by a reanimated corpse, to Kim Hwan Hee who does an amazing job as Hyo Jin shifting from a sweet and loving daughter to a possessed, foul-mouthed and violent being that would put the fear of god into anyone.
The cinematography is handled by Hong Kyung Pyo, the man behind the visuals of the Oscar-winning Parasite, Snowpiercer, Burning, Brotherhood, Love Exposure, Mother, Sea Fog, and so much more, and provides some stunning shots that really stand out. These are backed by a great score delivered by Dalpalan who composed the music for hits like A Bittersweet Life, The Good The Bad The Weird, Assassination, and Adrenaline Rush to name but a few. He is joined once again by Jang Young Gyu with both working alongside each other on many of the aforementioned titles, as well as Jang composing for films like Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance, Woochi The Demon Slayer, The Yellow Sea, and Train To Busan. Along with Hong's visuals, they help make Na Hong Jin's gripping thiller an amazing experience. I absolutely loved The Wailing. It's such an intense watch that proves to be as gripping as the awesome Parasite and should definitely be seen by more fans of horror/thrillers, regardless of its place of birth!
Overall: Dark, gripping, and highly entertaining, The Wailing is one of the best modern horrors from South Korean cinema, and is most definitely worth the watch!
DVD Extras: Behind The Scenes, Making of Documentary, Trailer
WAKE OF DEATH
(aka) After Death
Directed by Philippe Martinez Produced by Alan Latham, Philippe Martinez Action by Tom Delmar
Starring: Jean Claude Van Damme, Simon Yam, Philip Tan, Valerie Tian, Tony Schiena, Burt Kwok, Lisa King, Tom Wu, Jacqueline Chan
Reviewing: Sony Pictures UK DVD Release
Genres: Action / Thriller
Rating - 3.7 / 5
DVD Synopsis: Action superstar, Jean Claude Van Damme (Universal Soldier, Street Fighter), is back and at his hard-hitting best as Ben Archer, an ex-mob enforcer seeking revenge against a ruthless Chinese kingpin responsible for his wife's brutal murder. When Archer joins forces with his old underworld friends, an all-out war is waged against the Chinese Triad in this pulse-pounding action thriller.
Views: The irrepressible JCVD stars as a mob enforcer Ben Archer, who is on the verge of retirement. Although he has been loyal to his employers for many years, his boss doesn't like the idea of an ex-staff member on the loose with so many secrets that could bring the gangsters down. To make matters worse, his INS social worker wife has brought home a young Chinese girl (Kim) whom she saved during a bust on a human trafficking case – a decision that comes with its own set of problems, as she is the daughter of brutal Triad leader Sun Quan. After killing the girls mother in Hong Kong, Quan arrives in LA to find the daughter he has never met with the help of a dirty cop who has been running drugs with him. While at a restaurant with Kim and her family, Ben's wife soon finds herself face-to-face with the Triad boss who quickly runs a knife across her throat and shoots her parents dead. As the kids make their escape, Ben arrives on the scene to find the body of his wife and in-laws. Now, he must find Sun Quan and take his revenge for their murders while protecting his son and Kim, along with a little help from his old friends in the mob!
Originally set to be directed by the late, great Ringo Lam – in what would have been the 4th collaboration with Van Damme after Maximum Risk, Replicant, and In Hell (all of which are worth the watch), Wake Of Death saw its second director come and go in the shape of indie filmmaker Cess Silvera, who was then fired after 2 weeks into production. It then became 3rd time lucky for the production when French producer Philippe Martinez stepped up to the plate, in what would only be his second feature at the helm after his directorial debut, Citizen Verdict, from 2003. I can't say I've ever seen any more of his work, but with Wake Of Death he delivers a neat enough film that entertains to some degree – but I'd really loved to have seen where Ringo Lam would have took it, to be honest. Regardless, Martinez brings a stylish flair to the project with some quick editing that helps keep the action scenes exciting, and plenty of slow motion and cross-fades for the more dramatic moments. In fact, I'd say that the director took more than a few tips from Lam' style of filmmaking as well as putting his own twist on things, bringing some great brutality to the show that saw lots of cuts in many countries as well as having an 18 rating slapped on it. The script certainly isn't anything spectacular, but it is made a little more palatable thanks to a decent supporting cast. The turn-of-the-century saw Van Damme suddenly lose his status as box-office gold, coming off the tail-end of the 90s with Tsui Hark's highly entertaining Double Team and Knock Off, the well-received Legionnaire, Universal Soldier: The Return, and Inferno. And while I personally enjoyed what followed with Ringo Lam's Replicant and In Hell, as well as The Order from Sheldon Lettich, it looked like the muscles from Brussels was on track for a life of straight-to-video (or DVD) titles, with Wake Of Death proving to be one of the better projects with what followed. I wouldn't say it was a ground-breaking role for Van Damme – I mean he hardly had to flex the acting chops, but it suited him. It's something I would imagine Jason Statham being cast in, if it was to be made today and similar in many ways to films like Safe or Hummingbird, I suppose.
Hong Kong superstar Simon Yam stars as Sun Quan, the Triad boss with no compassion. Again, it's not a role that calls for him to do anything he hasn't already done over the course of his wonderful and lengthy career, but it works. With around 250 roles behind him, Yam has always been a treat to watch and had been cast the year before in the box office hit, Laura Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle Of Life alongside Angelina Jolie – so it was a clever move in casting him here. Interestingly enough, Philip Tan, who plays one of hi subordinates in Wake Of Death, had also starred with him in the Tomb Raider sequel and has had a healthy career in Hollywood as both an actor and a stuntman from Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom to Showdown In Little Tokyo, and Lethal Weapon 4 to the Martial Law television series with Sammo Hung. It was nice to see the wonderful Burt Kwok appear briefly as Ben's father-in-law, and Marco Polo star Tom Wu star as one of Yam's henchmen. Wu also shared the screen with Simon and Philip in the aforementioned Tomb Raider sequel, as well as carrying roles in Shanghai Knights, Skyfall, Red 2, and Kick-Ass 2 as Genghis Carnage. The rest of the supporting cast is fleshed out with a host of faces I can't say I've ever seen before, but the majority of them did a pretty damn good job – including the kids who managed to avoid being annoying for the most part...
Although it has its flaws, Wake Of Death is a pretty damn good film and a simple tale of revenge backed up by some great action. While there isn't too much hand-to-hand combat going on, the film does deliver some exciting shoot-outs, cool car chases, and an exciting motorbike chase through a shopping mall. Simon Yam doesn't really get to do too much, even though one scene shows him practise tai chi as if prepping him to be a kick-ass opponent against Ben Archer, but Van Damme definitely gets to partake in a mix of fun fights and action scenes. All in all, it's the kind of movie you really don't have to think too hard about and entertains enough to make me want to see it again!
Overall: Brutal, moody, stylish, and enjoyable, Wake Of Death is worth the watch and one of Van Damme's better films of the 21st Century!
DVD Extras: Making of Documentary
WALK ON FIRE
(Hong Kong 1988)
Original Title: Lie Ying Xing Dong
Directed by Norman Law Produced by Ng See Yuen Action by Tony Leung Siu Hung
Starring: Andy Lau, Ray Lui, Cherie Chung, Kent Cheng, Dick Wei, Lau Siu Ming, Shum Wai, Kam Hing Yin, Tony Leung Siu Hung, Bruce Law, Teddy Yip
Reviewing: YouTube Release
Genres: Action / Crime / Drama
Rating - 3.7 / 5
Synopsis: Bomb suspect and criminal Tong of the Hunan Gang, is sent back to Hong Kong from Macau for his crimes. But his car is attacked along the way and Tong escapes. It's now up to OCTB inspectors Lee and Lo to track him down and stop him.
Views: Hong Kong cops Lung and Ma are given the task of bringing a bomb suspect back from Macau, after he bombed a police station in the city. The suspect is Tong, a member of the Hunan Gang, and is rescued by his men along the way that leads to a shoot-out and car chase that crosses the border into China. With Tong now gone, the cops land themselves in big trouble and are joined by Lam from the Complaints Department to find a way to get Tong back and clear their names. Lam soon meets Chung – an informer for Lung and Ma who has her own troubles with local loan-shark and gang boss Wai, who is also from the Hunan Gang. Offering to scare Wai off for her, Lung takes Chung home but gets attacked by the gangster and his men before being taken away and killed, while his wife gives birth to their 4th child and first son. As Ma and Lam set out to find their friends killers, they track down informer Chung who keeps them on their toes and moves in with Lam to stay safe - with the pair soon falling for each other as time passes!
I must admit, there's quite a strong team behind the scenes as much as there is in front. The wonderful Ng See Yuen produces through his company Seasonal Films, working off a script written by prolific director Wong Kar Wai. Interestingly enough, Wong also penned films like The Intellectual Trio, Rosa, Final Victory, Flaming Brothers, The Haunted Cop Shop, and Return Engagement (as well as all of his own self-directed hits), and provides a pretty solid piece with Walk On Fire. And although Ng See Yuen hadn't directed anything himself since 1985's The Unwritten Law (also starring Andy Lau), he stayed busy behind the scenes producing – with this falling in between the No Retreat, No Surrender Trilogy, as well as the Hsu Hsia directed Mister Mistress starring Cherie Cheung and Eric Tsang. Instead, Ng handed the directing duties over to Norman Law Man who had worked as an assistant director to See Yuen on projects such as The Secret Rivals 2, Drunken Master, Dance Of The Drunk Mantis, Tower Of Death, and more. In doing so, Law proved himself to the big boss man who then went on to make his own directorial debut under the Seasonal Films name with the super-fun Lackey And The Lady Tiger, starring Mars, Hwang Jang Lee, and Linda Lin Ying in her final film role. Walk On Fire came about half way through his directing career, in between A Hearty Response and (Ninja) Vampire Buster, and proves (again) how competent a director Law really was. I'm actually surprised he wasn't behind so much more, to be honest...
The wonderful Andy Lau plays Lam Kwok Wah, the handsome detective and close friend of Lung's who sets out on a revenge mission no matter what it takes. Lau had been climbing the movie star ranks quickly since the early 80s with movies like Boat People, On The Wrong Track, Shanghai 13, The Unwritten Law, Magic Crystal, Rich & Famous and Tragic Hero behind him. 1988 would continue to be one of his busiest years with 10 features on the go including The Crazy Companies 1 & 2, The Dragon Family, Runaway Blues, Three Against The World, and the fantastic As Tears Go By for writer Wong Kar Wai in his directorial debut. In Walk On Fire, Lau plays a role similar to that of many he portrayed in the years leading up to the production and gets the chance to show some heavy dramatic moments, comedy, and action – all while looking as handsome as ever. The equally handsome Ray Lui plays Lung, the unfortunate father and husband who is eventually killed after trying to help his informer. I've always enjoyed seeing Lui on screen in many great roles over the years including Project A 2, Devil Hunters, Guns Of Dragon, To Be Number One, 7 Assassins, and many more. The brilliant Kent Cheng stars as Inspector Ma, partner to Lung and comedy relief of the show. It's hard not to enjoy the big man in any movie and with over 140 film credits to his name since his appearance in the Shaw Brothers film Heroes Two, Cheng has become one of Hong Kong's biggest stars appearing with A-list names like Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung, Chow Yun Fat, Jet Li, and Michelle Yeoh. He obviously had a close relationship with director Norman Law, having starred in a number of films for him such as The Sweet And Sour Cops 1 & 2, A Hearty Response, the super fun Vampire Buster with Jacky Cheung – one of my favourites as a young teen that I bought as an ex-rental called Ninja Vampire Busters – The Kung Fu Scholar, Bloody Brothers, Mermaid Got Married, and this. The beautiful Cherie Chung stars as Miss Chung, the drug addicted informer who brings about Lung's death (as well as a host of other problems) and falls for Andy Lau's character. I felt that Cherie did a great job here and put up with a lot of abusive stunt-work, as she has done with many of her roles over the years, and has always been a joy to watch. The first time I would have seen her on screen was in Sammo Hung's classic Winners & Sinners, and from there caught her in some great titles such as Postman Strikes Back, The Dead And The Deadly, Peking Opera Blues, Spiritual Love, Wild Search, Once A Thief, Zodiac Killers, and Frankie Chan's The Good, The Bad, And The Beauty. Ultimate Hong Kong movie bad-guy, Dick Wei, stars as Wai – the Hunan Gang thug that kills Lung and takes on Andy Lau in a final showdown. I just loving seeing Dick Wei in any movie! He has such a bad-ass on screen presence and rarely disappoints when in action. Starting life in the industry in the early 70s with Shaw Brothers, Wei went on to star in over 130 movies and quickly became even more popular when he joined Sammo Hung for The Prodigal Son and Carry On Pickpocket – going on to star in films like Zu Warriors, The Champions, Project A, The Lucky Stars Trilogy, Heart Of The Dragon, Yes Madam, Millionaires Express, Dragons Forever, and so much more. As well as crossing paths with many of his Walk On Fire co-stars over the years, Wei managed to direct a handful of titles including the very fun Visa To Hell, A Killing Order, and Ghost Fights Ghosts – almost 2 decades after his last directorial effort. The rest of the cast is filled out with familiar faces such as Lau Siu Ming as the Chief of Police, Shum Wai, Kam Hing Yin, Teddy Yip, Barry Wong, Lam Kai Wing, Maria Cordero, and action directors Bruce Law and Tony Leung Siu Hung – both of whom deliver some incredible action pieces here. While Law would have most likely been behind the car chases, crashes and vehicle stunt work involved, Tony Leung (brother to kung fu super star Bruce Leung) brings alive some exciting shoot-outs, fights, and impressive stunts that help keep Walk On Fire exciting.
With some great cinematography from Horace Wong, the eye behind films such as the A Better Tomorrow Trilogy, Hard Boiled, Barefooted Kid, The Killer, The Big Heat, The Accidental Spy, and The Myth, Walk On Fire often looks a little more polished than many other late 80s Hong Kong productions – sometimes reminding me of Police Story with particular shots. And while it may seem uneven to newer viewers as it jumps between serious action thriller to romantic comedy, this was quite a common flow of any Hong Kong movie at this time and a huge reason of why I fell in love with them. Although the hugely popular Wong Kar Wai may have penned the script, Walk On Fire is a car cry from any of his own self-directed works which may annoy any of his new-age fans. Personally, and with all flaws acknowledged, I quite enjoyed it though and would happily watch it again without a second thought!
Overall: An exciting and action-filled flick, backed by a great cast and production team that makes Walk On Fire a movie worth watching!
THE WANDERING MONK
Original Title: You Fang He Shang
(aka) Shaolin Monk Fights Back; The Roaming Monk
Directed by Chang Hung Chi Produced by Chang Ang Yuen Action by One Target Martial Arts Group
Starring: Li Ping Hsiung, Lin Hsiao Hu, Chen Chiu Yen, Tsai Hung, Cliff Ching, Kao Chen Peng, Yi Yuan
Reviewing: Hollywood East UK DVD Release
Genres: Traditional Kung Fu / Drama
Rating - 3 / 5
DVD Synopsis: After a number of deathly mishaps, Monk Lu bravely rescues the bewildered young orphan Cheng, and teaches him the essence of martial arts. The two roam the countryside seeking the murderers of Cheng's father. In a series of spectacular martial arts displays they encounter the brutal killer and him to justice. A brilliant example of the lightning arts that will amaze enthusiasts and the initiated alike!
Views: Good monk Lu wanders the land and soon finds trouble with an annoying teen called Cheng, who takes a disliking to him for unknown reasons. The same kid arranges for an evil monk to come to dinner at the Ma Family home where he attempts to rape master Ma's daughter after feasting on meat and wine, but is quickly chased off by the masters men. Soon after, the good monk arrives at the Ma family home and proves his worth when he takes on his evil counterpart who returns for revenge. After a lengthy battle, the good monk spares his temple brother and begins his journey once again – this time with the annoying teen alongside him. Monk Lu soon learns the truth behind young Cheng's angst, having seen his father murdered and mother kidnapped by an evil doctor, and promises to teach the boy the art of kung-fu as well as find the man responsible. It all leads to a deadly showdown as the pair catch up with their suspect, who has now become the self-proclaimed king of town and leader of a deadly kung-fu sect!
On this particular transfer, The Wandering Monk looks as cheap as chips. It's story and direction really doesn't offer anything new in terms of kung-fu movies, and especially for a production that was made in 1980 when the likes of Golden Harvest and Shaw Brothers were dishing out much more modern looking films around the same time. That said though, the film does prove to entertain with lots of well choreographed fights, simple comedy, and a half-decent cast. Little known actor Li Ping Hsiung stars as the titular character and looks pretty damn good when in action, and child actor Lin Hsiao Hu stars as young teenager Cheng – stealing the show with some brilliant martial artistry in what would be one of his final roles, unfortunately. Lin started life in the film industry less than a decade earlier with a child role in Taiwanese flick, Fist Of Shaolin alongside Pai Ying and Pearl Chang. From there, he went on to star in films such as The Furious Avenger, The Traitorous, Story Of The Dragon, and The Smart Cavalier directed by the great Joseph Kuo, and does a great job here as the young revenger once he gets past his annoying stage. Small time actress Ling Fung also impresses in the action department, getting to strut her stuff a few times such as the fight in the brothel and grand finale, and the great Tsai Hung dons a thick grey wig for his role as the evil sect leader. I'm a big fan of Tsai, having seen him in many of his 150+ starring roles including One-Armed Boxer, The Gallant, Beach Of The War Gods, Seaman No. 7, and The Iron Man – all alongside the legendary Jimmy Wang Yu. Some of his other memorable roles have been in films such as Five Shaolin Masters, New Game Of Death, 8 Strikes Of A Wild Cat, Iron Neck Li, and Joseph Kuo's aforementioned classic The Smart Cavalier, as well as a host of Shaw Brothers titles. While the majority of his kung-fu skills are saved for the grand finale, Tsai impresses with his moves and makes for a fun villain as per usual. As well as a number of other recognisable Taiwanese bit-players popping up throughout, prolific actor Yi Yuan stars as Master Ma in one of his two hundred and twenty-something roles. Yuan started his film career in the late 1950s and stayed on the screen into the mid 90s including roles in films like Angel Or Whore, Shaolin Vs Ninja, Devil Killer, A Brotherhood Of Heroes, Tai Chi Shadow Boxing, and 18 Shaolin Riders and is another actor to re-join his co-stars here from the same 1978 Joseph Kuo production...
Although this is the only credit under Chang Hung Chi as a director, he had spent the decade leading up to his debut as the assistant director on titles such as Queen Boxer (The Avenger), The Peking Man, Journey Through Youth, and Hero Of The Wild starring Chen Sing, Hwang Jang Lee, and Lo Lieh which featured choreography from the wonderful Corey Yuen Kwai and Yuen Biao. I have to admit, he presents a pretty basic storyline and style of direction with The Wandering Monk, but it's certainly not unwatchable by any means and is saved by some very exciting fight action. The only credit I can find for fight choreography is by the One Target Martial Arts Group – a collective of action choreographers who have seemingly only worked on this film under that name. Regardless, they manage to bring together some pretty fun kung-fu battles that allows everyone involved to bust a move and look good doing it. Thankfully, this is exactly what saves The Wandering Monk from becoming just another generic kung-fu flick and makes it worth the watch, at least once.
Overall: Nothing new in terms of story, but The Wandering Monk is saved with some great choreography and a fun cast!
DVD Extras: Photo Gallery
Directed by Philip Atwell Produced by Steven Chasman, Jim Thompson Action by Corey Yuen Kwai
Starring: Jet Li, Jason Statham, John Lone, Devon Aoki, Luis Guzman, Mark Cheng, Kane Kosugi, Ryo Ishibashi, Sung Kang, Kenneth Choi, Terry Chen, Nadine Velazquez
Reviewing: Lionsgate UK DVD Release
Genres: Action / Thriller
Rating - 2.5 / 5
Synopsis: When his partner is brutally murdered by the infamous assassin Rogue (Li), FBI agent Jack Crawford (Statham) vows to find the elusive killer and personally avenge his partners death. But Rogue proves untraceable until three years later when he resurfaces to ignite a bloody turf war between Chinese mob leader Chang and Japanese Yakuza boss Shiro. Eager to capture Rogue once and for all, Crawford leads his team of crime specialists headlong into the conflict. But Crawford's thirst for vengeance jeopardises his professional judgement, and as the violence escalates, Crawford finally comes face to face with his enemy to discover that nothing about Rogue or his plan is quite what it seems.
Views: It was interesting to read that Jet Li himself was unhappy with War, both in terms of making it and how it was received upon release. And I have to say, no matter how many times I watch it in the hope that it will get better, I'm always left feeling a little disappointed myself. After FBI agents Jack Crawford and Tom Lone get into a gunfight with the Yakuza, they bring their case to a close when they put a number of bullets into the deadly assassin known as Rogue. As they move on with their lives, Jack quickly learns that the very same killer has resurfaced when he finds his partner Tom and his family shot, and their home burned to the ground. A few years pass, and a new case reconnects Jack with the Yakuza who are now involved in a turf war with the Triads, initiated by Rogue who has been murdering people across the city. Now, he must take on Rogue and his people before he loses anyone else – although soon realises that everything isn't as straight-forward as it seems!
I must admit, the first time I saw War on its initial release, I was highly disappointed. I thought this was going to be the big martial arts rematch between Jet Li and Jason Statham, after sharing some screen time in the more impressive sci-fi action flick The One, but it was not meant to be. A second viewing didn't really change my mind, but with this latest re-watch – I now knew what was coming and actually enjoyed it a little more. While it may be far from the best of Jet Li's Hollywood vehicles, War isn't completely unwatchable and is mostly stained by a so-so screenplay, MTV style editing, and a plot twist that raises more questions than sense. The screenplay for War was written by Lee Anthony Smith and Gregory Bradley, two first time writers who have continued to work together over the years (although not on anything memorable) and while I congratulate them for getting their story made, it's obvious that the script didn't have a more experienced mind behind it. Interestingly enough, the same could be said (in ways) for director Philip Atwell as War would be his directorial debut on a feature film. Atwell had spent the majority of his career as the director on a host of music videos for singers/rappers such as Eminem, Snoop Dogg, Ice Cube, Marilyn Manson, 50 Cent, and more, eventually stepping into the role of second unit director on the Nicholas Cage films National Treasure 1 & 2, before getting to make War. Of course, it's being the box-office bomb that it was, War stopped Atwell's career from ever flourishing and seemingly only ever returned to work as the second unit director on yet another Cage movie, The Sorcerers Apprentice.
Apart from handling the action and fight sequences, the great Corey Yuen Kwai also serves as the second unit director on War, but I'd love to have seen him take full control of the production to be honest, having worked with Jet and Jason many times before. While there really wasn't enough martial arts action for me personally, there is plenty of other action going on – but it rarely gets the blood pumping. The action highlights for me include Jason Statham's fun restaurant fight that reminded me of his role in The Transporter, then there was the scuffle between Jet Li and the Yakuza boss, that saw him warm up in a quick exchange of moves with the handsome (and underused) Kane Kosugi, and the exciting showdown between Statham and Li that makes for a fun finale – although was probably over far too quick. As with the most of his movies, Jet is doubled for his more exciting moves and this time by popular stunt performer Peng Zhang. Starting off in the film industry around 2003, Peng has worked on the stunts and fights on many big titles including Bulletproof Monk, The Last Samurai, The Transporter 2, Ninja Assassin, Kick-Ass, 47 Ronin, Wrath Of Vajra, Ant-Man, and Wonder Woman – and has doubled for many other big stars including Chow Yun Fat, Donnie Yen, and even Jackie Chan. Zhang is currently working as the second unit director on the The Marvels for the MCU, the long awaited sequel to Captain Marvel.
While fans kind of know what to expect with Jet Li and Jason Statham in their roles, although the former doesn't really come to life until the final third of the film, the rest of the cast in War is a mix of recognisable faces such as the wonderful John Lone, Mark Cheng (Hong Kong star and former boyfriend of Yukari Oshima), Kenneth Choi, Devon Aoki, Luis Guzman, Sung Kang, Mathew Patrick, Terry Chen, and the aforementioned Kane Kosugi. Of course, some of these guys have shared the screen a number of times before such as Sung Kang and Devon Aoki in 2 Fast 2 Furious, and the latter with Kane Kosugi in the fun DOA: Dead Or Alive. I really wanted this to be so much better, but unfortunately War just isn't as strong as it should have been and that's a real shame. I should also point out that apart from a change in ratio, this UK DVD release is cut by about 5 minutes in comparison to its US counterpart – although it does have a collection of deleted and extended scenes in the special features to make up for this!
Overall: Not half as exciting as it should have been, War still manages to pass the time but fails to excite fans of Jet Li and Jason Statham!
DVD Extras: Audio Commentary with Director Philip Atwell, Audio Commentary with Writers Lee Anthony Smith and Gregory J. Bradley, The Action of War, Gag Reel, Deleted/Extended Scenes, Scoring War