I'm not trying to be a hero! I'M FIGHTING THE DRAGON!!

War

tn_warex3-li-stathamWait a minute, there’s a movie that’s Jet Li vs. Jason Statham that I never bothered to watch? How can this happen? Well, I remember I was excited for it when it came out but then everybody said it sucked, and I’ve seen enough generic movies of this type (Statham vs. Snipes in CHAOS) to fear sitting through another boring, lifeless slog that wastes my favorite action stars. Fortunately I think I waited just the right amount of time because while I’d agree it isn’t a proper use of Jet Li that’s not really a crushing surprise anymore, and WAR is more watchable, more of a real movie than what I’d always pictured.

Li gets top billing, but Statham is the protagonist. FBI Agent Crawford specializes in Asian organized crime and is obsessively on the trail of a CIA asset turned assassin known as Rogue (Li). Rogue seems to have been hired both by the Triads and the Yakuzas, he’s been massacring both sides and playing them against each other while seemingly representing either Chang (John Lone, RUSH HOUR 2) or Shiro (Ryo Ishibashi, AMERICAN YAKUZA, BROTHER) and his daughter (Devon Aoki, 2 FAST 2 FURIOUS) who are trying to expand their operations in the U.S. by selling a priceless horse statue. You know what, I was thinking the title WAR is pretty generic, I wonder if they considered something cool like HORSE SALE, I bet that would’ve been an intriguing name for action fans.

mp_horsesale

I’m not saying I’m a marketing genius or anything, but you guys are free to say it if you want. Anyway, the gangs are all killing each other, so that’s the titulescent war.

mp_warLet me try to list some of the cop movie cliches that are in this. There’s the partner who’s very close and has a nice family that gets murdered. There’s the early implication that the bad guys knew about a bust so there’s gotta be a leak from within. There’s the assassin who’s so elusive some think he’s an urban legend but Crawford stubbornly stays on the case. The assassin leaves a calling card that lets Crawford know he’s still active. He ruins his marriage by being too obsessed with the job but still cares about the ex-wife and talks to her on the phone even though she’s exasperated with him.

And there’s not that much in the way of uniqueness to add flavor to that, but here is one tiny little part I liked. One of Crawford’s partners (Mathew St. Patrick, STEEL SHARKS), when serving a search warrant to a gangster, keeps almost handing it to him and then pulling it away and then almost handing it to him, like a schoolyard bully. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that in a movie before, and it cracked me up.

I must acknowledge WAR for proper use of action tradition in the scene where Shiro is in a samurai outfit at home practicing sword fighting with one of his Yakuza minions. Firstly, it’s a good “just how evil is he?” scene, the scene where the bad guy does something terrible to one of his own men. Secondly, it is indeed set up for him to have a sword duel toward the end of the movie. Respect.

Sung Kang plays another one of Crawford’s partners, a marksman who backs him up. He’s cool but doesn’t get to do as much as you’d hope. At this point he’d been in TOKYO DRIFT, but it’s two years before FAST AND FURIOUS, so Han was still unknown to most people. I actually wondered if he was supposed to be a red herring just because he’s of Korean descent so you wouldn’t know which gang he’d side with.

Luis Guzman is treated better, he gets a nice sleazy location (he’s a guy who puts on small time cage fights) and a good reveal. Also Saul Rubinek has a small Saul Rubinek part and apparently Kane Kosugi and Lauro Chartrand (director of Seagal’s BORN TO RAISE HELL) are both in here somewhere.

Statham is standard issue Statham, intense and cool and capable of being mean, like when he pushes shrapnel into a guy with his finger to try to make him talk. He does get to fight Li at the end, but mostly it’s a shoot guns, drive a muscle car type of role for him.

Li makes a good Rogue, but Rogue is not a good use of Li. We don’t rent a Jet Li movie to see the back of his ears as he goes around shooting people. Corey Yuen (who directed Li in FONG SAI YUK and many others, Statham in THE TRANSPORTER and Aoki in DOA: DEAD OR ALIVE) is the second unit director and fight choreographer, but it’s not a heavy martial arts movie. Of course you don’t expect an American movie like this to be FIST OF LEGEND, but what about hoping Li’s role will compare to LETHAL WEAPON 4? It seemed like he fought more in that one, and even his posture and poses projected his history as a master of kung fu. Here he’s mostly a fearless guy with guns (and dogs like him, judging from one of his more imaginative kills). It’s a role that doesn’t require one of the great screen martial artists. I guess it does help in that we know of his skills and that makes him more menacing than he would be just based on his looks. But really this is a better role for wasting Chow Yun Fat.

I guess at that time Li was resigned to not being exactly a martial arts star anymore. As he put it:

“I said [FEARLESS is] the last martial arts film, because martial arts in my mind is totally different. The Chinese character, how they write about martial arts is to stop war… But later on we take out the art, we only fight, fight, fight. Show the violence only. So I told it very clearly in that film. But this kind of film, an action film, I will continue playing [these characters and] making action films. Action – just action. You can find a lot of physical contact, fights, street fight. In my own heart it’s not about art. It’s a different type of movie.”

There is a IMPLIED SPOILER crazy twist that goes a long way toward redeeming the movie in my opinion. It’s completely far-fetched and uses a major cheat that they try to excuse just by pointing it out in a line of dialogue. But I don’t got a problem with crazy. It’s ambitious, it makes what’s been going on alot more interesting, it’s ballsy in the way it pulls the rug out from under you, and it even sets up what could’ve been kind of a cool movie series. But if they wanted it to have sequels maybe they should’ve called it something more distinctive than WAR, even if it’s not HORSE SALE. I know it was originally supposed to be called ROGUE, but the giant crocodile movie from the director of the WOLF CREEKs go there first. It’s too bad because I think it’s too vague of a title for that movie and that might be part of why not enough people know it. On the other hand it would’ve fit this story and genre pretty good. I can picture ROGUE 2 before WAR 2.

The cinematographer is Pierre Morel, who had cinematographied Statham in THE TRANSPORTER and Li in UNLEASHED. The next year he directed TAKEN (although he’d already done DISTRICT B13).

Director Philip G. Atwell hasn’t done any other features, but he co-directed videos with Dr. Dre and wrote MURDER WAS THE CASE: THE MOVIE. Dre and RZA are credited with “additional music.” So if you’re keeping track, martial arts legends who RZA has scored for include Jet Li, Tony Jaa, Michelle Yeoh (in BABYLON A.D.), Wesley Snipes, himself, and Forest Whitaker.

Atwell also directed TURBO CHARGED PRELUDE TO 2 FAST 2 FURIOUS, and I suspect he also hangs out with Nic Cage, because he’s been a second unit director three times: NATION TREASURE, NATIONAL TREASURE 2 and THE SORCERER’S APPRENTICE. I’m sure he’s a cool guy so if I ever met him I would pretend to like WAR more than I actually do. But it was worth watching.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.
This entry was posted on Thursday, August 14th, 2014 at 12:21 am and is filed under Action, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

42 Responses to “War”

  1. One Guy from Andromeda

    August 14th, 2014 at 1:23 am

    Now I really wanna know what the twist is, but not enough to actually watch the movie….

  2. The Undefeated Gaul

    August 14th, 2014 at 3:18 am

    The twist is Jet Li turns out to be an alien drugdealer and Statham is actually a bounty hunter who followed him from another planet. It’s pretty cool.

  3. You should. It’s an entertaining movie.

  4. I would have to agree that the twist actually redeems the movie quite a bit and elevates it beyond the generic cop-on-the-edge-out-to-get-the-killer plot that you expect the movie to be and think it is for a good 95% of its runtime. I don’t think any movie has really ever done this kind of twist before that I am aware of and I was actually stunned when it was revealed and it really redefined what the movie was really about once you get to the end of it.

  5. Am I going to have to watch this one again? Because for a while this was my gold standard for how modern theatrical action just didn’t get it anymore. Boring characters, lifeless tone, uninaginative action, and way more time spent on the 12 millionth generic triads-and-gangsters plot than on the tough guy vs. tough guy matchup the poster promised. A total and complete waste of time. But maybe I just had higher standards back then.

  6. Did Statham do an American accent in this, or was that in THE ONE? I always get them mixed up.

  7. He definitely attempted the accent in THE ONE, but I think they let him stay au natural in WAR. Because obviously an agent from some nebulous government faction from the far-flung future needs to be American, but a plainclothes detective in an American city is allowed to talk like a Dickensian bootblack. That’s just verisimilitude right there.

    I’m trying to remember anything specific that I hated about WAR and I’m coming up blank. It’s not a movie of specifics. But can anyone verify that they used that strobe, stuttery slow-mo effect that seemed so cutting-edge in LETHAL WEAPON? Because (except in the LW films, where it is as familiar and comforting as an old pair of slippers) that is my least favorite action affectation. Worse than shakycam, arguably. If you can’t do real slow-mo, don’t bother. It’s like sugar and NutraSweet. Using the low-calorie substitute is worse than using nothing at all.

  8. I think the obvious solution for the sequel is to make it a globe-trotting adventure and call it WORLD WAR.

  9. It just occurred to me that it’s surprising that I still consider myself a big Statham fan, since all three times in the past decade when I’ve nearly given up on seeing action films in the theater were after seeing movies he was in: This, THE MECHANIC, and EXPENDABLES 2. All of them showed to me that no one involved in their making, even these supposed experts, had any idea what I, as a lifelong action fan, was interested in seeing from the genre. If they could fuck up these projects, simple meat-and-potatoes blow-em-ups, what hope was there for the future of the genre? I get over that pessimism periodically, but I really should have given up on the guy by now since every time I see one of his movies, there’s an even chance I’ll come out of it depressed and despondent. I guess CRANK 2 bought him more goodwill than I realized at the time. I’m not saying it’s a lifetime pass but it seems to have a few more years left before it runs out. I hope he makes good use of it.

  10. Don’t laugh. A horse sale gone bad helped make Ulysses S. Grant a badass.

  11. Ah, I remember this movie, just barely. From Jet Li’s “sunglasses” period. When I saw it was called ROGUE ASSASSIN, which is a very generic title but it’s no WAR. That quote from Li is a real bummer “I’m going to keep making these types of movies even though there’s no art in it and it has no connection to my own personal philosophies” I’m glad he went back to making martial arts films now and again.

  12. I can’t remember if this was better or worse than Cradle 2 da Grave. The latter had 2003/Bad Boy II era Gabrielle Union doing a striptease before she got slapped around, so at least that was entertaining to 13-year old me, in a disposable female character kind of way.

  13. Gabrielle Union’s striptease is only the thing I remember about Cradle 2 da Grave as well and I too was around 13 when it came out

  14. as War is almost (crazy twist aside) ceaselessly generic. I was actually most entertained by the little touches. Like when Jet Li blows through everybody he goes up against, but the guy who gives him the most trouble is the rather stout, clearly middle-aged yakuza boss (Ryo Ishibashi) who sure as heck don’t look so threatening, but Ishibashi is such a good actor that he sells it. The katana fight they have is easily the action highlight of the whole film, which you’ve got to remember, includes Mark Cheung and Kane Kosugi as (disappointingly dispatched) antagonists.

    and also I loved the moment of attempted peacemaking at the end, wherein members of each of the remaining sides gets some offering to prompt them to behave. The triad widow gets a prized statue, the yakuza princess gets her Dad’s head in a box (complete with sappy music cue until she looks at it). That had to be meant to be funny.

    and of course, John Lone deserves better, well most of the cast does, but that’s a given.

  15. The Undefeated Gaul

    August 15th, 2014 at 1:50 am

    Cradle 2 The Grave wins by default because it has the great end fight between Jet Li and Mark Dacascos. Admittedly it was spoiled by being intercut with two other incredibly lame fights (Gabrielle Union vs Kelly Hu and DMX versus some random big dude) but I actually edited those parts out at some point to create a non-interrupted version of the fight that was pretty damn great.

    I did the same for the glorious MMA cage fight (where Li fights Randy Couture, an early Expendables match-up) that was intercut with fucking DMX riding around on a quad bike.

  16. CRADLE 2 THE GRAVE is terrible in many ways but it’s completely insane and unique. I can’t imagine wanting to watch WAR over CRADLE.

  17. I’ll take either of Li’s Besson joints over his Silver joints, and all of them over this mess.

  18. Count me as a fan of CRADLE as well. I thought DMX had a nice screen presence in it.

    CRADLE vs ROMEO MUST DIE? What do you think?

  19. CRADLE, definitely. RMD is only interesting for how instantly dated it was.

  20. Yeah but RMD has that awesome fire hose scene.

  21. If we’re talking Statham, “Safe” is great. That is all, it’s my gold standard for his action vehicles although I reserve some love for the first “Transporter.”

  22. Yeah I think SAFE is the pinnacle of the Statham action vehicle. It’s too bad it didn’t do well because I wouldn’t mind seeing Boaz Yakin’s career reborn as a sturdy action director.

  23. CRADLE did give the world “X G’on Give it To Ya” so it’s hard to be too mad at it.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fGx6K90TmCI

    As far as I’m concerned, SAFE proved that Statham was capable of pulling off a perfectly competent, highly entertaining respectable action movie, and I’m confused as to why he doesn’t do it more often. He really needs to find a creative team that gets him, and work with them to make projects he cares about.

  24. I think the Bank Job was the “best” Statham movie, but if I’m ever in a Statham mood I probably lean towards the vulgar insanity and stupidity of the Crank films.

  25. HUMMINGBIRD wasn’t bad as well.

  26. I need to see CRADLE 2 THE GRAVE again, I betcha today it plays like an early 00’s version of an “awesomely-bad” 80’s action movie

  27. “Safe”-related but not explicitly, I’ve gotten to the point where when I make new friends I introduce them to “Fresh.” It’s important to see Yakin as a chessmaster then they’ll appreciate things like Dolph’s “Punisher” and “Safe” a whole lot better.

  28. The Original Paul

    August 16th, 2014 at 11:57 pm

    Jeremy – I agree with you completely, but let’s not forget that Statham was also in the awesome “Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels” although he didn’t star in it.

    I’ve always enjoyed “Romeo Must Die”. It had kinda the same quality as Seagal’s “Exit Wounds” for me, and not just because it’s all about guessing the identity of the (usually pretty obvious) bad guys. There’s a kind of manic energy about both of those films that I appreciate. Not a lot of people like either film but for me they’re sometimes just what I need.

  29. The Original Paul

    August 17th, 2014 at 12:03 am

    And while “Safe” was ok, I think I liked it the least out of everybody who commented on it. To me it’s just another cliche’d example of PG-13 actioners that absolutely shouldn’t have been PG-13; and the action, when it did happen, was impossible to follow. There are a couple of really good scenes (the one where Statham returns home to find his enemies waiting for him and his wife dead really stands out), but other than that, I found it rather boring. I do at least give it credit for trying to squeeze in every possible racially stereotyped bad guy though. Hard drinking Russian gangsters? Check! Overcontrolled pervy Chinese? Check! Cynical world-weary corrupt cops? Check! Ambiguously corrupt mayor with vague connections to the mob? Check!

    I preferred “Hummingbird”. Don’t think I ever actually saw “Cradle 2 the Grave” although I’ve always meant to check it out. It’s just never come my way I guess.

  30. The Original Paul

    August 17th, 2014 at 12:07 am

    “Expendables 3” is out over here btw. Do we have it before you guys in America for once?

  31. Nope, Paul. Check the Expendables 3 trailer post. We’re talking about it there. You can see it in the recent comments on the right of the page.

  32. Safe is a pretty hard “R” not PG-13. There was a “Safe” variant that was PG-13, “Premium Rush.” I also don’t agree with the assessment of the action, it has some odd beats but it’s not the movie you’re describing. At least not, subjectively, to me. Except for the ratings point that’s a fact.

  33. The Original Paul

    August 17th, 2014 at 8:52 am

    Brandon – it was rated 12A over here. To quote Vern’s “Cursed” review, that’s the one where “it’s ok to bring your kids”. And boy, did it show in “Safe”. It definitely did have some pretty intense moments – in fact, those were probably the best parts of the movie – so it’s not all bad news. I just prefer Statham’s films where he’s allowed to really let loose, and he wasn’t in “Safe”.

  34. The Original Paul

    August 17th, 2014 at 8:56 am

    And we don’t technically have a “PG-13” rating over here – our equivalent is 12A – I just describe it as such so the mostly-Americans on the forum will know what I’m talking about.

    Basically we have U (Universal), PG (Parental Guidance), 12A (no unaccompanied people children under 12 years old), 15 (nobody under fifteen), or 18 (nobody under eighteen). I was surprised that “Safe” wasn’t at least a 15, until I saw it.

  35. The Original Paul

    August 17th, 2014 at 9:03 am

    That should read “no unaccompanied children”. Dunno why I left the “people” in, I thought I’d deleted it. Oh well. Basically, you can see a 12A film in the cinema at any age provided you’re accompanied by an adult. There’s no such similar clause for 15 and 18 films, which are regarded as the “adult” variety over here.

    Tim Burton’s “Batman” was a 12A. So was “Batman Returns”, although a lot of people thought that one should’ve been a “15” at the time. (And honestly I’d agree with them. That scene at the end where Christopher Walken shoots Michelle Pfeifer repeatedly – sheesh!) “Pirates of the Caribbean” was a PG.

  36. Paul– When you describe you’re rating system I’m surprised it’s not a 15. 18, I think, would be a stretch but I’m as much a fan of “Safe” for the odd story beats as the satisfying violence. Then again I live in America where cinema violence is on a real creative down swing. I’ll say most every country in the world where violent movies with craft is a thing, still know how to do their head shots right, and I could see how “Safe” wouldn’t make someone bat an eyelash if we use my yard stick.

  37. hey whatever happened to the action comprehensibility rating? Are we not doing those anymore?

  38. I don’t always do them but if you think they’re helpful that’s good to know. I mostly use them on new movies where I feel like the action scenes are a major factor.

  39. Well, I can’t speak for everyone, but I really appreciate ’em. Good, crisp action is a rare enough commodity these days that I’m interested in a movie on that strength alone.

  40. In fact, if I may be so bold, I think it would be really cool if you put them on every action movie you review and then curated a list of all the movies of different rating, so you could click, for example, and just see the “3’s” or just the “5s.” it’d be a good way to make the archives more easy to browse in terms of their action content!

  41. I watched this a while back on Showtime. I wasn’t too fond of it.

  42. I’ll take my hat off to the screenwriter’s of this one, as the central twist is a genuine shocker. But aside from that it’s pretty generic and forgettable. I know Statham himself wasn’t fond of it.

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