Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The Wrath of Vajra: The Hades Death Cult Get Bloody

When a martial arts cult takes its name from the Greek god of the underworld, it is safe to expect major villainy from them. Factor in their commitment to Japan’s Imperial militarism and you know they are in for a bruising in Law Wing-cheong’s The Wrath of Vajra (trailer here), which releases today on DVD and Blu-ray from Well Go USA.

According to Kawao Amano, the founder of the Hades cult, even if the Japanese military conquers territory, they will never defeat the spirit of the Chinese people until they see their regional champions publically humiliated by superior fighters. To accomplish this task, Hades kidnapped young children to be raise as fighting machines. K-29 used to be one of them, but he broke with the Hades cult when it was temporarily disbanded for being way too nuts. With the war going badly, the Emperor eats some crow and gives Hades the go ahead to open up shop again. One of their first orders of business will be challenging K-29, who has taken up robes in a Shaolin temple.

Forced to turn himself in, K-29 finds himself reunited with Bill, another former involuntary Hades inductee, who commands a captured American military unit. The rules of Hades death tournament are simple. K-29 will have to fight his way through a series of cult leaders, starting with the towering Tetsumaku Rai, leader of the Violence Clan, to get to his nemesis, Daisuke Kurashige (a.k.a. K-28). Sure, no problem. Along the way, he will work through his guilt for accidentally killing his brother way back when and reawaken the conscious of Amano’s daughter Eiko, a journalist reporting on Hades tournaments for the Japanese public.

So yeah, guess who wins and guess who loses. Frankly, Vajra is considered subtle anti-Japanese propaganda, because K-29 never gets political. Instead of greater China, he fights for the captive children. For what its worth, Eiko is also a sympathetic figure and the Americans are on the side of the angels. Still, Vajra is not exactly shy about playing to anti-Japanese sentiment.

Regardless, Shaolin monk-turned action star Xing Yu (a.k.a. Shi Yanneng) is pretty legit as child assassin-turned Shaolin monk K-29. He has the moves and his everyman presence wears well during the course of the film. Usually a supporting player lending authenticity to films like Ip Man, Shaolin, and Bodyguards and Assassins, it is nice to see him get a turn in the spotlight. Ya Mei (Zhang) also convincingly portrays Eiko’s evolution from militarist to maverick. Jiang Baocheng and “Poppin” Nam Hyun-joon (a Korean hip-hop dancer) certainly have the right looks for Rai and the herky-jerky Crazy Monkey (leader of the Zombie Clan), respectively. In fact, they essentially upstage (Korean American, not Japanese) Steve Yoo’s down-to-business K-28.

It hardly matters though if one set villains are more colorful than another. Law, a Jonnie To protégé who really made a statement with the To-produced Punished) keeps the energy level up and action director Zhang Peng stages some distinctly camera-friendly, old school fight sequences. Vajra delivers spectacular beatdowns and adds some pleasing Shaolin seasoning. Recommended for martial arts fans looking for red meat, The Wrath of Vajra is now available on DVD and digital platforms from Well Go USA.