Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Submitted By China: Wolf Warrior 2

Tired of America serving as the “world’s policeman?” Perhaps you would like to have China sub in for a while. Wu Jing is so eager to show us what that might look like, it is downright scary. Yet, somehow, he manages to greatly improve on the first outing for PLA sniper-commando Leng Feng. Things get more personal when his fiancée vanishes while on assignment in Wu’s blockbuster Wolf Warrior 2 (trailer here), China’s no-chance-whatsoever official foreign language Academy Award submission, which releases today on DVD and BluRay.

Believe it or not, Wolfy 2 includes maybe a thimble full of critical domestic social commentary—maybe. As the film opens, Leng Feng and his brothers-in-arms are delivering the ashes of their fallen comrade to his home, only to find his family blocking their shrine from a real estate tycoon’s bulldozer. When the sleazebag threatens to make the surviving relatives’ lives miserable, our favorite Wolf Warrior fixes his attitude problem permanently.

Cashiered out of service and convicted of manslaughter, Leng Feng is unable to protect Long Xiaoyun, his former commanding officer and love-of-his-life, when she is ambushed in Africa. All he has left of her is a bullet with a distinctive decorative design. After his release, he disappears into Africa, hoping to match the vanity bullet to a bad guy. Much to his surprise, he gets emotionally involved with several locals, especially his “godson,” Tundu.

When mercenaries hired by a coup-plotting general start running amok, Leng Feng is there to go rogue. With the unofficial support of the PLA, the ex-Wolf Warrior sets off to rescue Dr. Chen, the modern-day Albert Schweitzer who founded the “Chinese-Invested Hospital” (that seems to be its official name) and then liberate the workers at a Chinese factory under siege, including Tundu’s mother. However, instead of Dr. Chen, he winds up with his colleague, Dr. Rachel Prescott Smith, but old Leng seems to find this a fair trade.

Although Wolfy 2 features an honest to goodness flag-waving scene, it still is not nearly jingoistic as its predecessor (the marketing campaign is another story, since it included key art with Wu flipping the world the bird and the tag line: “anyone who offends China, no matter how remote, must be exterminated.”). Still, it is hard to argue with Leng Feng when he tells Dr. Smith the U.S. Marines have up and evacuated, leaving utter bedlam behind. What can we expect, when we have steadily disengaged from the world, over the last eight-plus years?

Of course, most viewers will be more interested in the action, so they will be happy to hear Wu steps it up considerably from the first film. Action directors Sam Hargrave and Wai-leung Wong stage some gritty, adrenaline-charged fight scenes, but it is the way-over-the-top tank battles that really make the film.

Ironically, Wu Jing is more charismatic and likable this time around, even though his character is supposed to be more jaded and disillusioned with life. He also has all the moves and a deceptively thin, but super-cut physique, making him one of the most credible action stars working today. Frank Grillo brings more gusto as the latest western nemesis than Scott Adkins, but it is former wrestler Oleg Prudius and crossover stunt-performer Heidi Moneymaker who really add villainous flair as hench-mercs, Bear and Athena (you’ll be able to guess which is which). Yu Nan appears briefly as the ill-fated Long, but Chinese American Celine Jade develops better rapport with Wu as Dr. RPS. However, Wu Gang does the most to keep the film grounded as He Jianguo, the factory’s world-weary PLA-veteran security director.

In WW2, Wu blows up crap pretty good. He also gives us a peak of the world we have been sliding into. For eight years, we had a policy of isolationism through multilateralism—meaning if anyone might object to the use American power, we would duly defer. Now we have a more honest “America First” brand of isolationism, but it is just as likely to put China in charge mediating the world’s disputes. Wu Jing says they are ready and Jade has a hard time disagreeing. Recommended for the action, not the messaging (but perhaps as a wake-up call), Wolf Warrior 2 is now available on DVD and BluRay.