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Wolf Warrior
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by Jay Seaver

"Still training to be the best of the best."
3 stars

Western movies like "Wolf Warrior" used to crowd direct-to-video racks, promising heroic soldiers fighting evil foreigners with much less nuance than flag-waving, and probably still do once you scroll past the bigger-studio options on a VOD menu (heck, there's a mini-industry of direct-to-video sequels to more ambitious war movies). The main difference an American will see for much of the running time here are that the flag is different and the mercenaries speak English; it's still a dead-simple plot that involves a lot of concealing oneself outside, a command center, and some pyro effects.

The difference is, it stars Wu Jing as the headstrong-but-always-right special forces guy and Scott Adkins as the chief merc, which means that at some point toward the end, these two are going to run out of ammo and start punching and kicking each other, and that scene is worth a rental fee. It's not the most creative or exhilarating fight scene either has been part of, but these guys are good at that part of the job, and as the film plays out, each one's action scenes serves to whet the appetite for the final confrontation. It's enjoyable enough to watch them get put through their paces even if the result is an utterly foregone conclusion.

The story itself is thin as heck but has a potentially fun kernel at its center: Strip away all of the getting there and the truly goofy macguffin revealed toward the end, and you've got the Wolf Warrior squad in the middle of a training exercise - and thus without live ammunition - suddenly having to face down a group of well-armed mostly-foreign mercenaries who are supposedly hunting down Wu's Leng Feng as revenge for the incident where he disobeyed orders and as a result got promoted to the team (yes, there's some severe cognitive dissonance about Feng needing to learn to be part of a team even though every big action sequence rests on him being super-awesome individually going on). That's a good action-movie engine, but Wu and his co-writers can't make it stand, switching things up a couple times in the second half and unsuccessfully trying to give Feng subplots involving his late father and being attracted to his commanding officer.

Wu is an action veteran who, aside from his own directorial debut Legendary Assassin and Kill Zone 2, has spent his career as the opponent who made the star look good, and you can tell that the action is where his strength is - he and his crew can choreograph and shoot the heck out of a fight scene but tend to connect them with flimsy, well-worn material. A lot of the story feels generic or half-complete, spackled over with appeals to Chinese patriotism. Nothing really wrong with that, although it's not exactly subtle when something like seventy-five percent of the soundtrack is rising music meant to be stirring, an obvious imitation of the sort of music one associates with triumph rather than something that earns the association on its own.

Of course, Wu Jing is hardly the first filmmaker to lean on that air when making his action movies; just the latest, and one where the results make it to foreign territory because he's gained something of an international fanbase for his work in things like the "Sha Po Lang" (aka "Kill Zone") movies. It's a rough effort, although the good news is that the sequel is better, and considering that the Chinese action film has become more dominated by big special effects than great martial arts in recent years, it's nice to see a guy many pegged as the next big kung fu star start to make good on his promise.

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originally posted: 08/09/17 09:52:34
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  DVD: 01-Sep-2015

  N/A (15)
  DVD: 12-Oct-2015

  N/A (MA)

Directed by
  Jing Wu

Written by
  Qun Dong
  Yan Gao
  Yi LIu
  Jing Wu

  Jing Wu
  Scott Adkins
  Nan Yu
  Dahong Ni
  Zhu Xiao
  Qiang Ma

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