Director: Jacky Wu
Writer: Jacky Wu
Producer: Don Yu Dong
Cast: Jacky Wu, Yu Nan, Scott Adkins, Kyle Shapiro, Ni Dahong, Zhou Xiaoou, Shi Zhaoqi, Deng Ziyi, Tian Miaomiao, Ma Qiang, Shan Jiachen, Samuel Thivierge, Kevin Lee
Running Time: 90 min.
By Paul Bramhall
After the lukewarm reception of Wu Jing’s 2008 directorial debut Legendary Assassin, 7 years on and 2015 sees him returning to the directors chair for his second feature, Wolf Warrior. While Legendary Assassin was very much a Hong Kong movie, the publicity posters for Wolf Warrior gave us a clear indication of what to expect, displaying Wu in a variety of heroic poses set against the backdrop of the Chinese flag. It left people with little doubt that his latest effort was essentially going to be a 90 minute commercial for the Chinese army, the question was, would it be a good one?
With a cast led by Wu himself, starring alongside British martial arts sensation Scott Adkins (credited as Scott Edward Adkins for some reason), the potential was there for greatness. At one point it was even speculated that Vincent Zhao had joined the cast, but in the second film in as many years (the first being 2014’s Special ID), in the final product he was nowhere to be found. Nevertheless, the prospect of Wu vs. Adkins was enough to wet any action movie fans appetite, and rightly so.
It may come as no surprise to hear that those expecting a 2015 version of Sammo Hung’s masterpiece Eastern Condors will be sourly disappointed. It becomes apparent very quickly that the budget of Wolf Warrior dictates that, if you must make a comparison to a similarly themed movie, then the 1991 Moon Lee action flick Angel Force would be a much more favorable effort. It may be shot in 3D and feature some worthy explosions and pyrotechnics, but there’s no denying that Wolf Warrior is a far cry from the budget of other mainland-centric productions such as Switch. Still, when you have talent in front of the camera like they do here, who cares!?
The story itself opens with Wu Jing’s character, who’s an expert sniper, skillfully taking our a terrorist from ‘somewhere in South East Asia’, who’s threatening to put a bullet in the head of a hostage. Wu’s actions are considered risky, but ultimately he’s promoted to the Wolf Division, a team which is “the special force of special forces.” Trouble comes though when the brother of the terrorist Wu killed discovers his whereabouts, and sends a team of elite foreign mercenaries, led by Adkins, to have him killed. Mid-way through, the script seems to realize it needs to give the terrorists some reason for doing what they’re doing, so it’s explained in a throwaway comment that they’re planning to make a virus using Chinese DNA which will only kill Chinese people. Ok.
Wolf Warriors opens strongly, the first 15 minutes being filled with some impressive action sequences. There are plenty of explosions, all of them real, and several of which utilize some unique POV reaction shots when they go off, thanks to all the soldiers seemingly wearing cameras somewhere on their person (it’s never clear exactly where). Likewise Scott Adkins and his posse also make an impressive entrance, blowing a house to smithereens, and unleashing a minigun against several police cars to devastating effect.
While there’s not a single kick or punch thrown by either Wu or Adkins, the quality of what’s on display means you don’t even notice. Unfortunately, after such a strong opening, things take a turn for the worse. Wu is soon recruited to Wolf Division, and dropped in the jungle close to the border in which he has to take part in a training excercise. The game pits his team, led my mainland actor Shi Zhao Qi, against another, led by the leader of the Wolf Division played by Yu Nan, who you may recognize as the only good thing about Expendables II.
Their training is interrupted however by the arrival of Scott Adkins and his gang, who do terribly intimidating things like spray paint a rock with Chinese characters which read ‘Chinese Boy Scouts’, even though none of the mercenaries can speak Chinese, let alone write it. But wait, before any of that, in one very confusing scene Wu and his team suddenly fall quiet, before whispering that there are wolves on the way. The whole time various characters have been referring to themselves as wolves, so I was expecting the other team to show up and for some action to take place. Instead, a group of CGI wolves make themselves known, and we have to watch the brave Chinese soldiers fight against said wolves via rather awkward actor vs. sub-par CGI animal trickery.
We know the soldiers are brave by the way, because when Adkins and Wu do face off, even though Adkins has been a merciless bastard throughout, he takes a moment to tell him – “You may not be the smartest soldier I’ve ever met, but you’re definitely the bravest.” Talk about breaking character. These constant gushings about how great and beautiful China is happen with overwhelming regularity throughout the movie. To a large degree, they’re forgivable. Unlike many movies which awkwardly shoehorn in the ‘China is great!’ message, Wolf Warrior was about how great China was from the very beginning, so it comes as expected. That said, it still manages to grate at certain points, especially with one of the closing lines being, “Those who threaten China’s resolve will have no place to hide!”
From the moment Wu is recruited to the Wolf Division the movie is essentially limited to just two locations – the jungle, and the division base which has Yu Nan communicating with Wu via a headset and a nifty CGI map of the landscape. With Wu’s team mates isolated against Adkins and his crew, it should be time for some fists and feet action in the jungle, but sadly, this never comes to be. Instead, almost 99% of the movies action consists of rather dull gunplay. Hardly any of it is particularly bloody, but most disappointingly, the promise of the first 15 minutes is quickly forgotten, as the vast majority of the shootouts are instantly forgettable.
When Wu and Adkins finally do run out of bullets and face off, at last there’s a moment of tension in the air as they both get their knives out and confront each other. Less than a minute and several moments of wirework later, it’s over. Adkins barely gets to throw a single kick, and worse of all, is dispatched in a horrendously cheesy way – with Wu getting himself all riled up by looking at his arm patch that Adkins tore off: a Chinese flag which has written in English ‘I Fight for China’. It pains me to say that Wu didn’t learn from his experience on Legendary Assassin, on which he also worked with fight chorographer Nicky Li, as it seems that while both are talented, they don’t appear to be a good match for each others styles. Wu vs. Adkins should have been epic, but instead, it’s hardly worth a mention.
Wu also hasn’t improved much as a director in 7 years. Some parts are laughably bad. In one scene a grenade goes off which is shown in slow motion, it then cuts to Yu Nan watching the explosion on the monitor inside the base, but ridiculously the scene on the monitor is also playing in slow motion. He also doesn’t understand how to engage the audience, as in another scene one of his team members shows him a photo of his daughter that he keeps inside his helmet. Less than 5 minutes later, the character is killed, and it flashes back to him showing Wu the photo inside his helmet, even though we just watched it a couple of minutes ago. The soaring score wants us to get emotional, but the emotions aren’t earned.
Proceedings come to a close with a Jackie Chan style outtakes reel over the final credits, complete with fight scene accidents, line blunders, and general onset shenanigans. Normally I show a lot of goodwill towards outtakes, but in this case, it simply felt like it was prolonging the inevitable, when all I wanted it to do was end. Indeed those who threaten China may have no place to hide, but if those making the threats are faced with the prospect of having to watch Wolf Warrior, I’m sure they’ll try pretty damn hard.
Paul Bramhall’s Rating: 4.5/10
Disclaimer: I watched Wolf Warrior in the cinema in 3D. While not normally a fan of 3D, here in Australia there was no option to view it any other way. Apart from a few explosions which sent splinters hurtling towards the screen in the beginning and end, I’m unsure why the decision was made to film in the 3D format, as it was barely utilized.