"KEEP BUSTIN'."

Fistful of Vengeance

FISTFUL OF VENGEANCE is a new Netflix movie that’s a sequel to the show Wu Assassins. I think I watched two episodes of the show. It stars and is produced and choreographed by the great Iko Uwais, so it had good fights, and it was cool seeing him have a good lead role even speaking English. I also liked the idea of this kind of fantasy in a modern urban world of Triads and stuff. But I spend so much time reviewing movies I have a hard time watching whole shows, and the complicated mythology kinda lost me. Still, I decided to give the movie a shot, and thankfully the references to events from the show are not confusing. It works as a stand alone.

Uwais plays Kai, who on the show was a chef who found out he was a supernatural chosen one called a Wu Assassin who has to kill some magic warlords or whatever. I remember that he would turn into Mark Dacascos sometimes at the beginning of the show, but that doesn’t happen here. He works with a non-supernatural badass named Lu Xin (Lewis Tan, TRUE VENGEANCE, DEADPOOL 2, Into the Badlands, MORTAL KOMBAT) and a smartass former Triad guy named Tommy (Lawrence Kao, MAX STEEL, HONEY: RISE UP AND DANCE) to, I guess fight supernatural threats or something. In the opening scene Kai and Lu Xin are strutting into a cool dance club while Tommy is on a rooftop having champagne with a woman and boasting about himself and his friends, providing us the exposition that they’re trying to find out who killed his sister Jenny.

This opening is a good example of the movie’s flashy style. Colorful locations, show-offy motion controlled camera moves, well done martial arts with bonus CG super powers, a good international mix tape of a soundtrack (with Eminem and Run the Jewels among the representatives for the United States). Kai and Lu Xin spot some dude sucking people’s souls out on the dance floor, it turns into a big fight, when they kill the main guy he explodes into glitter that everyone seems to enjoy as they continue dancing and a cool female DJ keeps mixing and playing a see-through electric violin. Seems like a pretty cool club! And all this is intercut with Tommy being seduced on a party bus but revealing it’s all a trap to try to get info from a monster lady. As one does. Before we have a chance to catch our breath, everyone else on the dance floor freezes like Bullet Time and someone (not Professor Xavier, someone else) starts speaking to “the Wu Assassin” through different people.

Turns out he’s being summoned by William Pan (Jason Tobin, BETTER LUCK TOMORROW, TOKYO DRIFT, F9), a famous CEO guy who reveals he’s the demigod embodiment of order and needs our boys to attack his chaos-embodying twin sister Ku An Qi (Yayaying Rhatha Phongam, ONLY GOD FORGIVES, THE PROTECTOR 2, MECHANIC: RESURRECTION) at a high security hotel.

So you kinda get the idea of how much convoluted supernatural mythology this thing is constantly throwing at you. I dig that because it’s so wild but it’s all grounded with a humanity. Our lead trio have a really enjoyable camaraderie as friends who have been through the shit together and feel obligated to continue going through the shit with a shrug and a half smile even though they know it’s gonna hurt.

And there’s sort of a WIZARD OF OZ thing here where their group grows along the yellow brick road. Tommy calls the only person he knows in Bangkok who might be able to get them weapons, Preeya (Francesca Corney – no other credits, but I hope this gets her other roles). She’s kind of a smartass and messes with them in funny ways but when she hears that Jenny died she decides to go with them to attack the hotel. And then when they’re inside they run into Lu Xin’s ex, Adaku (Pearl Thusi, TREMORS 5: BLOODLINES, THE SCORPION KING: BOOK OF SOULS). She’s an Interpol agent who doesn’t know about all this magical shit and is about to arrest Kai when all the people in the hotel, being mind-controlled by Ku An Qi, come after them like zombies. So fuck it, she joins the team too.

(By the way, as a fan of international action co-productions I always like when Interpol pops up. I think of them as a fictional agency that makes them all one big International Action Co-Production Cinematic Universe.)

It’s ironic that Netflix themselves sort of flattened the world of action movies by buying the modern action masterpiece THE NIGHT COMES FOR US and refusing to release it theatrically or on physical media, so that when they make a TV show spinoff some people might think it should be held to the same standards. They’re both “Netflix Originals” co-starring Iko, so why not? This is obviously not as good as that, but it’s pretty damn good if you just look at it as a Roel Reine movie. I first knew him from Seagal’s PISTOL WHIPPED, but now I think of him for his solid DTV part 2s: THE MARINE 2, DEATH RACE 2, THE MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS 2 and HARD TARGET 2. He got good at stretching budgets and schedules by shooting in Thailand, but this movie seems enormous compared to those. This actually seems fair after Netflix swallowed up the straight-to-Blockbuster market, that they should have to give all the DTV greats bigger budgets to work with. They gave John Hyams Black Summer and now they better call up Isaac Florentine.

Anyway, this Reine (who is also the cinematographer) really shines on this larger stage. Good for him.

After the opening fight there’s a plot heavy stretch that made me think maybe it would be light on action. And I was involved enough to be okay with that. But pretty soon Reine lets ‘er rip. Lots of gangs of machete wielding henchmen commencing violent brawls in a variety of interesting Thai locations. Heavy duty shootouts. Explosions. A boat chase. CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON: SWORD OF DESTINY, SAVAGE DOG and JIU JITSU star JuJu Chan Szeto (as she’s credited here) shows up as a character named Zu, trying to kill Kai to get his power. I don’t think I got to her on the show, but brief dialogue implies maybe they weren’t always enemies, and that’s enough for me. They get two one-on-one duels.

The choreography is pretty varied and imaginative. Like a guy stomps a floor board causing two huge nails to pop out, and he kicks them while they’re in mid-air and they fly and nail Lu Xin’s hand into a tree. But a bit later Lu Xin pulls them out, stabs them into the guy’s forehead and hammers them in with his palm. That’s the kind of stuff I want to see. That’s cinema.

As they get towards the finale there’s more and more magic involved, but it never just turns into a cut scene of FX, it’s always martial arts and stunts enhanced by the FX. And I liked some of the concepts, like the island where Preeya grew up is protected by an arch covered in beads and scrolls that some beings can’t pass through – basically a magical metal detector. And I liked Lu Xin’s rivalry with some cool guy in a spiky leather jacket who has runes that glow from beneath the skin on his hands. Fuck that guy. You can take him, Lu Xin.

There has been some discussion lately that some weirdos think sex scenes shouldn’t be in movies unless they serve the plot. Others have complained that movies in general (whether due to a new prudishness, caving to international markets or actresses not wanting to do nude scenes) have become oddly sexless. So I wanted to note that this one does have a sex scene – in fact, it seems like it’s gonna be two different sex scenes intercut much like the fight scenes are, except unfortunately one of the trysts is interrupted by a text from a demigod offering to resurrect dead relatives in exchange for capturing Kai’s chi in a magic necklace. You know how it is.

I like when there are stories like this – I think this also applies to Star Wars movies – where the wild coincidences required by the plot fit right into its world view. For example, they go to the one person they know in Bangkok who could get them weapons, having no idea that she has an uncle who’s a shaman who can explain to them what’s going on and give his life to help them save the world. In a normal story it would be silly, but this is a story that believes in magic and destiny. So of course that would happen. It would be wrong if it didn’t.

I enjoyed this one, and the appeal is pretty simple: tons of action, tons of imaginative gimmicks, joyfully excessive flashiness, all grounded by these very charismatic people playing this group of friends we can get behind. These guys have all kinds of talent and specialty knowledge but there’s always a ton more they don’t know, leaving them a little behind. They have huge responsibilities that seem just out of their control. The one thing they know is that they have each other. Sometimes they try to go on their own, but it always turns out they have to do it together. Sometimes they fight – usually bickering, occasionally one of them being possessed by Pan Gu, the First Man and making them literally fight – but they always make up and call each other “bro.” There is loyalty and forgiveness. I realized it was similar to what I like about the FAST AND FURIOUS movies even before it ended with them on a beach having a toast “to family, new and old.”

I guess I would qualify as new to the family. Thanks for making me feel welcome, FISTFUL OF VENGEANCE.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, February 22nd, 2022 at 7:12 am and is filed under Action, Fantasy/Swords, Martial Arts, 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.

18 Responses to “Fistful of Vengeance”

  1. I feel bad for the family of all those people she turned into killing machines. Somebodies daughter was waiting for their dad to come home and now he never will because Iko Uwais murdered him.

  2. The Good: Bursting to the brim with fight scenes of R-rated brutality, which mostly do a good job of making you forget the equal parts generic, equal parts convoluted plot. There’s a nice “buddy cop” banter between Iko and Lewis Tan. Tan atones for his turn in the dreadful MORTAL KOMBAT reboot and Iko finally gets to let loose after the insult of being criminally under-used in the even more dreadful SNAKE EYES. And for those who watched WU ASSASSINS, it’s nice to see Lawrence Kao’s Tommy, an absolute fucking loser in the TV show, displaying street smarts and some fearsome skills with stabbing weapons in this movie.

    The Bad: Once again this is for those like me who watched the TV show. The character of Jenny, Tommy’s sister was easily one of the more likeable ones in it, a tough businesswoman who still struggled under the scrutiny and expectations of her traditional and conservative Chinese parents, plus she could kick ass too. I disliked the way this movie just kills her off right at the beginning, kinda like watching ROAD HOUSE 2: LAST CALL and finding out Dalton got taken out like a punk off screen. And Juju Chan’s mob underling who rose to become the Boss was a pretty ruthless and loathsome baddie in the TV Show. Having escaped at the end of it, FISTFULL OF VENGEANCE should have made her the main antagonist , and it’s pretty weird seeing her dealt with so perfunctorily. I understand the idea was to make the movie as stand-alone as possible so as not to alienate potential viewers who may not have caught WU ASSASSINS, but it’s weird seeing her appear in the movie and not a SINGLE reference is made to the fact that Chan brutally tortured and then killed Iko’s father in the TV Show.

    All in, a perfectly decent lazy weekend view, rarely hitting the epic levels of awesomeness of the RAIDS, nor the Survival Horror grimness of THE NIGHT COMES FOR US or HEADSHOT but thankfully several notches above colossal Iko Misfires like MILE 22 & STUBER

  3. Loved it! It’s fast-paced, well shot and definitely one-of-a-kind in the realm of b-movie martial arts films. It’s certainly a bit on the weird side, but I much prefer that than middle of the road. As far as martial arts film not made in Hong Kong, it’s in the top tier – even if it’s not god-tier like The Raid. I’d say it’s a must watch if you’re a fan of action. And if you like it, give Wu Assassin a chance. The series ain’t that long, it’s got pretty good production value, solid fight scenes and some cool characters.

  4. KayKay – wait, that was an ALIEN 3 move? I assumed her dying was a loose thread they wanted to deal with from the show.

  5. Yes it was.

    Jenny was alive and well at the end of Wu Assassins and there was this final dinner table conversation between her, Tommy, Kai and Lu Xin about tracking down Juju Chan, so it’s all the more annoying seeing her just written out of the movie. In fact, they could have easily ditched the Interpol Agent and had Jenny take her place and it would have had more consistency with the show which establishes Jenny, Lu Xin, Kai and Tommy as childhood friends who have each others back (Jenny and Tommy being siblings to boot). But then again, could have been the usual case of failed contract negotiations, availability or simply a matter of the actor not wanting to reprise the role.

  6. Sorry, my “Yes it was” meant yes, a totally Alien 3 move!

  7. Maybe the necromancer he mentions will bring her back to life.

  8. Director Roel Reine, who is also director of photography, and who used to be the go-to-guy for making part 2 of any b-movie (do we use that term these days?) franchise, really has a knack for filming Bangkok to nice music. I want to go there today. And I want a place by the river.

  9. Reine also has a knack for making even low budget features look glossy and expensive. And here’s one of those fascinating things that would only happen in DTV-land, a director who’s made his mark directing so many sequels to so many franchises. To date, Reine has helmed sequels to:

    SCORPION KING
    THE MARINE
    THE CONDEMNED
    12 ROUNDS
    HARD TARGET
    MAN WITH THE IRON FIST
    DEATH RACE
    WU ASSASSINS

    That’s a whopping 8 franchises not counting the DEAD IN TOMBSTONE Westerns which is the only one where he directed both the original and the sequel.

    That, for me, is some pretty impressive shit!

  10. And I love that it’s almost exclusively part 2s!

  11. Yeah…would have been a perfect record if not for the fact they actually got Russell Mulcahy for SCORPION KING 2, making Mr.Reine’s entry into the franchise at Part 3.

  12. I think it’s been a while since people felt lucky to get Russell Mulcahy…

  13. I watched WU ASSASSINS, but don’t remember a ton of it, but enjoyed this enough even though it completely drops things from the show that were important, kills a major character off-screen and leaves the show’s cliffhanger ending completely unaddressed. Having seen a number of things with him in it, I do decree that I think the calls for Lewis Tan to get leading man roles in action things are misguided and that he works best as characters with at least a bit of a douchebag vibe to them.

  14. So, is Wu Assassins any good? It absolutely looks like something I would want to watch after a long day of work, but Mrs. Batty isn’t sold. I might just see if I can find room in my schedule to watch it on my own, but I’ve heard mixed things.

  15. RBatty024, for a show fusing martial arts and fantasy, WU ASSASSINS often betrays it’s lack of budget and some of the acting is pretty sub-par, but for undemanding action fare that you want to unwind to after a long day, this should fit the bill nicely. It keeps a brisk pace and the fights are aplenty and well choreographed. Plus, Byron Mann and Tommy Flanagan, 2 actors frequently relegated to supporting baddie roles get to shine here.

  16. Good to know, Kay. That sounds good enough for one seasons and a movie.

  17. If you watch only one mystical martial arts tv show with Lewis Tan I actually recommend Into the Badlands.

  18. Yeah, this one’s the goods. I know all the Wu Assassiniacs were probably hoping for another season instead, but you know it would’ve been another padding-stuffed twelve hour slog with maybe five minutes of fight scenes every episode to wake you up for more scenes of people sitting down and talking. As a 90-minute movie, it’s all thriller, no filler. You’re telling me they would’ve spent an episode on Iko fighting an entire hotel, then getting into a car chase which becomes a shootout WHICH BECOMES A HIGH-SPEED BOAT GETAWAY? There’s no chance. Please, TV people, take a lesson from the Wu-ster and learn that some stories should be over in two hours, not an entire afternoon.

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