Director: Wu Jing
Producer: Wu Jing
Cast: Wu Jing, Celina Jade, Frank Grillo, Yu Nan, Zou Kai, Hans Zhang, Wu Gang, Ding Hai-Feng, Chun Yu Shan Shan, Yu Qian, Shi Zhao-Qi, Diana Sylla
Running Time: 120 min.
By Paul Bramhall
While fans of Asian action cinema were understandably left underwhelmed by Wu Jing’s sophomore feature in the director’s chair, with 2015’s Wolf Warrior, one point that couldn’t be argued was its massive success in Mainland China. Armed with a subtle-as-a-hammer nationalistic script, and a super patriotic main character in the form of Jing’s titular Wolf Warrior, said elements were all that was needed for Chinese audiences to bring in the box office, and with it, an inevitable sequel. Just 2 years later, that sequel is here, and Jing once again is front and centre – starring, directing, and even contributing to the script.
Wolf Warrior 2 loses the likes of Scott Adkins and action director Nicky Li, but it arguably gains more than it’s lost, with a significantly bigger budget, and a wealth of overseas action talent on-board to make sure said budget is made good use of. Replacing Adkins as the (naturally) foreign villain is Frank Grillo, most recognizable as Brock Rumlow from the Captain America sequels, however Grillo isn’t the only Marvel connection. His team of mercenaries also consists of Heidi Moneymaker (the stunt double for Black Widow), Aaron Toney (the stunt double for both Black Panther and Falcon), and the action is choreographed by Sam Hargrave (the stunt double for Captain America, and villain from Unlucky Stars).
Just like the original, Wolf Warrior 2 opens strongly, with Jing fending off a group of pirates attempting to board the container ship he’s travelling on, via some sleekly filmed underwater-fu. The scene acts more as a display of the technical proficiency than anything else, as the camerawork follows Jing both in and out of the water, giving a masterclass on how Captain Phillips could easily have been a 5 minute short film. However unlike Wolf Warrior, the sequel wisely chooses to build on the opening action sequence, rather than trail off into monotony. It’s revealed that Jing’s lover, played by a returning Yu Nan in a brief cameo, was killed in action. With only a uniquely marked bullet to go on, believed to have originated in Africa, Jing’s once decorated military man has become a lonesome drifter, travelling around Africa in search of the one responsible for her death.
Making matters personal is one of the key things that Wolf Warrior 2 gets right, as unlike the first, it actually gives the audience (at least, the non-Chinese audience) an opportunity to care about his mission. Of course he’s still a shining beacon of integrity, confiscating pirated pornographic DVD’s from his African kid buddy, beating the locals in a drinking game, and showing off his chiselled torso in a soccer match on the beach. Indeed in many ways Wolf Warrior 2 could be considered a vanity project for Jing, however thankfully it remains restrained enough to never cross over into Ballistic Kiss territory.
Proceedings get complicated though when the latest town he’s in gets attacked by rebels, which plays out onscreen as a frantically shot city siege, providing the first of many bombastically lengthy set pieces. Jing attempts to navigate a group of civilians through the besieged streets amongst gunfire, RPG’s, and murderous attackers, in a thrilling sequence that’s right up there with the type of combat on display in the likes of Black Hawk Down. Of course though, this is Asian action cinema, so there are some entertainingly OTT moments, such as Jing stopping an RPG mid-flight with just his bare hands and some wire mesh. A close quarters combat scene that takes place in the confines of a grocery store also gives a strong indication that, if ever a Wolf Warrior vs John Wick crossover movie were to be announced, I’d be first in line to see it.
What’s perhaps most refreshing about the action scenes though, is that the vast majority of them are performed with practical effects. While it’s true to say that CGI blood and the occasional CGI explosion both rear their ugly heads more than once, all in all it’s fair to say they’re kept to a minimum. The sequel also learns its lesson in regards to the gunplay. While Jing’s intentions with the Wolf Warrior series are clear, in terms of them being heroic tales of the Chinese military, his calibre as a martial artist was disappointingly cast to one side in the original and barely utilised. Wolf Warrior 2 rectifies this, while still realistically acknowledging that the threat of a gunshot is always present, allowing Jing to get into various brief but intense hand-to-hand showdowns.
His fights against both Moneymaker and Toney are suitably brutal, and special mention should go to the casting of former WWE star Oleg Prudius. Known in WWE under the name of Vladamir Kozlov, Prudius is a man mountain whose presence is handled much more effectively than the similarly built Jiang Bao-Cheng, who Jing utilised in his directorial debut, Legendary Assassin. For those who balked at the rather awkward use of wires during the fights in both Legendary Assassin and Wolf Warrior, here they’ve also been done away with, which sees a much welcome grounded approach to the fisticuffs that take place. It’s a wise decision by action directors Hargrave and Jack Wong, who most recently worked on Operation Mekong, and brings a distinctly different flavour to the action than Jing’s frequent collaborator Nicky Li.
When the Chinese military decide to evacuate the city, Jing ultimately decides to stay behind to rescue a group of Chinese medical staff, holed up in a hospital several kilometres away. The hospital is home to a doctor played by Celina Jade, whose acting career was kicked off thanks to Jing casting her in Legendary Assassin, and another former military man played by Wu Gang. Jing’s arrival at the hospital is the real indicator that the action is only going to get more and more ludicrous from here on in, and that’s not a detriment. Despite it being physically impossible based on the architecture of the building, Jing makes his entrance into the hospital by driving his jeep through the second floor, in an automotive display that wouldn’t look out of place in a Fast and Furious movie. Gravity be damned.
While Wolf Warrior 2 is clearly all about the action, it’s worth mentioning that for the most part, the African cast are given respectful roles that steer clear of racial stereotypes. If a similar movie was made in Hong Kong during the 80’s or 90’s, there’s little doubt that it would have been a completely different story. Jing himself has also improved as an actor, and his chemistry with both Celina Jade and Wu Gang is effective despite the simplistic script (one line has him declare “Once a Wolf Warrior, always a Wolf Warrior”). The only weak link is the casting of Mainland singer Hans Zhang Han, playing another member of the military holed up in the hospital, who likely appears only to appeal to his fan-base demographic.
Speaking of the script, it’s a relief to hear that the overly nationalistic tones from the original have been dialled back considerably for the sequel. It still feels like the word ‘Chinese’ is spoken in almost every other line (and I think it could be), but it’s nowhere near as prelevant as the frequently threatening tone that Wolf Warrior took on. Here it’s more entertaining than anything else, as you have such lines as “Dr Chen is at the St Francis Chinese invested hospital.” Was it really necessary to include the words ‘Chinese invested’? Of course not, but it does make it kind of funny. It’s ironic then that the closing scene of Wolf Warrior 2 contains a literal example of Chinese flag waving, although to Jing’s credit, there’s a context for why it’s there, making it a smart but sly example of a clip that will no doubt help to bring in the Chinese audience.
Thankfully the promise of a Wu Jing vs Frank Grillo fight isn’t broken, and for those checking in for their confrontation, they’ll definitely be rewarded more than those that checked in for Adkins appearance in the original. It’s a 4 minute knock down drag out affair, that initially has them going at each other while air strikes rain down all around them, providing a visually striking backdrop. It also gets surprisingly bloody, and while some may complain about the quick editing, overall it doesn’t detract from the fight, still allowing the flow to be appreciated. Grillo’s character is thin at best, with no backstory other than he’s an evil mercenary (who at one point is also hinted at liking kids), however he brings an undeniably menacing presence, and proves to be a worthy foe.
In many ways it feels like the review I’m writing for Wolf Warrior 2 is the one that I wanted to write for Wolf Warrior, and while it’s still far from perfect, it delivers where it counts. There’s no need to question if a third one is on the way, as a slightly bewildering post-credits sequence (that’s clearly indicative of Jing still not being a fully rounded director) ends with Wolf Warrior 3 being splattered across the screen. Regardless of the sequences confusing nature, it does its part in preventing the final shot from being of a Chinese passport (you’ll understand once watched). While 2 years ago I grimaced at the prospect of a sequel, Jing has proven with his latest directorial effort that the third time really is a charm, so if we’re going to go for another round of Wolf Warrior action, count me in.
Paul Bramhall’s Rating: 7.5/10