Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Wolf Warrior: Wu Jing vs. Scott Adkins

Get ready for a steady diet of metaphors telling us lone wolves are most successful traveling in packs, or some such thing. They would be referring to Leng Feng. He is a loose cannon maverick type, but whenever he goes off the reservation, he is doing it for the team. Of course, he makes plenty of enemies that way, including a vengeful drug lord who can afford the best mercenaries money can buy. Their values compare poorly with those of the idealistic Feng, but they still manage to get the drop on his elite commando unit in Wu Jing’s Wolf Warrior (trailer here), which releases today on DVD, BluRay, and digital platforms from Well Go USA.

Just when a Southeast Asian drug raid seems hopelessly lost, Feng takes a spectacular shot (three of them really) to save the day. In the process, he kills the impetuous brother of shadowy crime boss and aspiring global megalomaniac, Min Peng. He should be happy to be rid of such a pathetic tool, but Min Peng rather holds a grunge. Having eluded Chinese forces, the old criminal mastermind hires a team of western mercs, led by the highly skilled Tom Cat, to take out Leng. He also has some conventional world domination business for them to tend, but that is really just a tangent to a tangent.

Arguably, the plan to attack while Leng’s squad is engaged in war-games is sort of clever, since it necessarily means the Wolves will be strictly packing blanks. Unfortunately, that is about the only part of the film that works. Even though the Mainland born Wu rose to prominence in HK film like City Under Siege, Wolf Warrior was clearly conceived as feature length tribute to the PLA. To a man, the Wolves are invariably pure of heart, but also stiflingly dull. Its like the un-self-aware Chinese version of “America, Blank Yeah,” the anthem of Team America World Police, except irony is strictly forbidden.

As a director, Wu gives us a herky-jerky ride, but his martial arts skills remain undiminished. The film is kind of watchable when it shuts up and lets everyone get down to business. When he finally gets to his long anticipated face-off with Scott Adkins’ Tom Cat (a mercenary named after a celebrity couple), it is pretty satisfying. Yet, it is rather strange how much of the film’s action revolves around fire-fights and marksmanship, considering two of the world’s top big screen martial artists are present and accounted for.

At least they have stuff to do. For most of the film, Adkins’ Expendables 2 co-star Yu Nan is stuck wearing an earpiece and biting her lip as she gives tactical advice from the command center. On the other hand, Ni Dahong’s stone cold coolness as the villainous Min Peng is one of the film’s saving graces, even though his transformation from Pablo Escobar to Dr. Evil makes no sense. It also seems slightly odd that he would want to develop a super-virus that only kills Chinese people.

There are rumors floating about online that PLA personnel were required to see Wolf Warriors in theaters, which would explain its success. If so, Wu delivered everything his PLA patrons could have hoped for, often reducing the film to an old school Soviet May Day parade of shiny new military hardware and platitudinous dialogue. Disappointing for anyone who is not a member of the Young Pioneers, Wolf Warriors is strictly for Wu and Adkins completists when it releases today (9/1), from Well Go USA.