By: John M Jerva
Caution: I go into some spoilers here so if you haven’t watched yet, stop reading. Fans either loved or hated Netflix’s Wu Assassins when it hit a few years back and even though the supernatural element was a tad silly, there was enough fight action throughout the first season to make viewers happy. The cast was a dream team as well with Iko Uwais, Mark Dacascos, Lewis Tan and Byron Mann all applying their signature skills to the bountiful fight sequences.
Tell you the truth, I thought the series was one and done when there was no news of a continuation and when it finally did happen, I was intrigued to see where the story went from the initial finale.
Now we have the premiere of the feature length follow up aptly titled Fistful of Vengeance which I got to see today and the title says it all and you definitely are going to get what you’re expecting. The title certainly reminds us of those old school martial arts fight fests that you’d watch on Saturday afternoons. The trio of Uwais, Tan and Lawrence Kao are back from the series and this time it’s personal as they are looking for the person who killed someone very close to them.
The opening of the film plays out like an Asian version of Miami Vice complete with a cover version of In the Air Tonight which fits this type of movie perfectly. As the music plays, we see Uwais’ Kai and Tan’s Lu driving the streets of Bangkok looking like they just stepped out of an 80’s cop show. The colors of the movie are just as bright and vibrant like that classic series and I was immediately immersed in this world once again for better and worse.
The plot is standard and silly as our heroic trio search for a killer and we are introduced to the fact that there is a brother/sister demigod tag team roaming the streets and they aim to bring back an ancient power that is definitely going to mess with the modern day as we know it. To say the good guys are in over their heads is an understatement but it does help that Kai is still channeling the chi of the all powerful Wu Assassin which will help in their out worldly battle against the forces of evil.
I told you the plot was nonsensical but that’s half the fun of a movie like this. This is like a summer popcorn flick where you just turn your brain off at the door and enjoy the extreme fisticuffs and there is a ton of it as within the 96 minute running time, not five minutes goes by without an action set piece where out skilled cast is showcasing their empty handed combat skills for the enjoyment of us fanboys. And there is a diligent of fan service here and this might be Uwais’ best western English language movie in terms of the international MA star showing us what he can do. He, without a doubt, does more fighting here then he has in his previous U.S. efforts although I think his stint in Triple Threat is still his most explosive this side of the pond.
Uwais is a rare breed as the man is a literal human special effect that needs no green screen. He radiates enough charisma to go along with the physical arsenal and when he does get to let loose, it does remind you of The Raid films even though theses fight scenes never reach those lofty heights. He still gets ample opportunity to strut his stuff and we are the better for it.
Lewis Tan, coming off his stint in the Mortal Kombat reboot, is looking sensational again as he embodies the vibe of an Chinese/English James Bond who knows how to crack a lot of bones. Tan has some killer screen presence and he works well with Uwais and Kao with enough onscreen chemistry to make you care once more for these characters. It also helps that Tan gets to play out his Mortal Kombat mojo throughout movie.
As Tommy, Lawrence Kao is essentially the heart of the story and he’s the one who has the most to gain from this mission as it was his sister Jenny, who was played by Li Jun Li in the series, that was unceremoniously murdered. Tommy clearly doesn’t have the physical prowess of Uwais and Tan but he still gets to jump in feet first when the action beats hit. His character is more of the human factor of the story so he serves his purpose.
Fans of JuJu Chan Szeto will no doubt be thrilled as the femme fatale returns as the ruthless assassin Zan who was an surefire bright spot of the initial series. Unfortunately, JuJu is only in a few scenes including the finale but she still gets to do an immense amount of damage as she takes on Uwais’ Kai not once but twice. The climatic brawl is a visceral showdown between the two and it’s a treat for the audience to see these two talents go head to head. JuJu is the embodiment of the type of female 80’s and 90’s Hong Kong style action aesthetic that was legendary back in the day and she’s keeping that spirits alive.
On a spoiler note, if something doesn’t happen with Chan Szeto’s character supernatural wise, I don’t think she’ll be involved in any more movies as her character is dispatched with a great villain death scene worthy of action cinema. I’m one that wouldn’t mind seeing her resurrected for future installments to cause more chaos.
In terms of new characters, we get Adaku (Pearl Thusi) and Preeya (Francesca Corney) who are likable enough for us to root for them and they also get to have some violent fun in the movie’s many action sequences. Thusi especially gets to weight in with some action defined moments with one personal favorite of mine has her firing her sidearm and taking down baddies while sliding on the ground John Woo style.
Warrior’s Jason Tobin plays William Pan and even though his character arc is paper thin, the actor still is tailor made for these types of roles. Rounding out the newcomers into this world is Yayaying Rhatha Phongam who plays Ku An Qi. She’s one half of the sibling power duo and while she’s built up throughout the movie to be this ultimate bad ass, she pretty much goes down quite easily which was rather disappointing for me.
The dialogue is cheesy and accommodating for this type of movie but it’s never a concern as we are simply just waiting for the next martial arts infused fix. There will be no Oscar nominations here but dialogue is not what we are here for. This follow up is lighter in tone from its predecessor and there are few scenes that’ll make you laugh albeit some are unintentional.
The action is the name of the game and the movie for that matter and like I said previously, fanboys will get their fill of the bone cracking carnage on display. The movie opens with a dance club beat down and the highlight is an extended altercation halfway through the movie that starts off in a hotel and spills out into the streets with desired effect.
Fistful of Vengeance is bloodier in tone then the series as our heroes use a variety of bladed weaponry to achieve their goals. Uwais once again dishes out come cold blooded moves with a pair of meat cleavers that definitely pays homage to his infamous scene in The Raid. We also get some firepower action as well but that never really interferes with the martial moves and that’s the way we like it.
Director Roel Reiné has made a successful living cranking out some impressive and entertaining DTV action pics and he definitely does the fans a service here with the way the action is shot. There is no shaky cam or suspect editing because he has true talent here that he’s working with so he just sits back and lets the actors do their thing and do it clearly in all it’s glory. I will say that even with the over abundance of fight spectacle on display here, there isn’t anything that really grabs you and screams instant classic. Don’t get me wrong, the action is serviceable but once again when you stack it up next to Uwais’ Indonesian efforts, there’s no contest as to which is better.
While watching the movie, I was patiently waiting for the one shot fight sequence that is all the rage nowadays and sure enough, we get it in spades during the climax. Thankfully, it involves Mr. Uwais who gets to battle it out with a host of assailants as the camera roams around the actors as they deliver their moves. Uwais is a fighter that was tailor made for a oner sequence and it is this scene that is his highlight aside from the meat cleaver sequence which I, in fact, did enjoy just a tad more.
The inevitable showdown between Kai, Lu and Pan is a major letdown as it takes the magical route with Uwais hanging upside down for some of it. Instead of another intricately staged battle, we get some sort of mumbo jumbo out of this world altercation that is more CGI then anything else. I’ve never been a fan of this supernatural element in my movies and it always distracts from the talent on hand. Also Tobin has showed some martial arts chops from his role in Warrior but sadly here, he is given a wasted opportunity. In other words, I was left wanting more from the last showdown.
My other biggest pet peeve here is that the score is totally forgettable and I can’t even remember what it sounded like. Plus when the action hits, the filmmakers decided to serenade the onscreen mayhem with bad hip hop songs and cover editions of well known tunes. I’ll never understand why they do this as the songs bring down the action to a degree and it always takes me out of the fight as I’m unfortunately thinking about how bad the songs are instead of what’s actually transpiring on the screen. Hopefully this fad will die away soon and we will get original scores that do the action justice.
It’s also important to take into account that Fistful of Vengeance is sort of a soft reboot of this franchise as viewers won’t necessarily need to see the series to watch this standalone effort. I do believe that it’ll help to watch the episodes that proceed this so you are more invested in the characters but the plot does stand on its own. I will point out that Mark Dacascos and Byron Mann are sorely missed in this latest installment.
Overall, Fistful of Vengeance is as advertised. It’s an endless excuse for Uwais and company to beat the living hell out of an army of faceless goons from the get go. The story is silly and forgettable and the supernatural element is corny but if you can stand the bad music played throughout, then you’ll come out of this latest Netflix action effort with exactly what you would want in a 90 minute plus distraction. Iko Uwais, and Lewis Tan don’t disappoint and even though the fisticuffs never reach the heights of those films overseas, they still serve their purpose and deliver some bloody good choreography. It does solidly deliver in quantity if not always with quality.
Flaws aside, the cast and action certainly do what is expected. Summer has definitely come early as the next installment of the Wu Assassins legacy is a non-stop barrage of popcorn eating entertainment filled with ultra-hyper fight action for fans craving their next fix.
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