A Chinese special force soldier with extraordinary marksmanship is confronted by a group of deadly foreign mercenaries who are hired to assassinate him by a vicious drug lord.
Titles can be incredibly confusing things as they conjure up all kinds of mental images that lead to films either living up to expectation, surpassing them or plunging the viewer into a miserable swamp of disappointment. Some movies wear their titles proudly, giving the audience exactly what they sat down to watch; House of 1000 Corpses and its B-moviesque thrills and blood spills instantly springs to mind. Some features surprise the viewer with amazing twists and storylines that far exceed the expectations created by mysteriously mundane titles, such as The Shawshank Redemption. So when it came to Wolf Warrior, I pictured some kind of crime fighting werewolf. In reality, I ended up watching what felt like an extended and, at times, comically violent commercial for the Chinese army. Is that a bad thing?? I’m still not entirely sure but I’ll will try and come to some kind of conclusion by the end of this review.
When sharpshooter Sargent Ling Feng (actor and director Wu Jing) is court marshalled for disobeying orders, he is enlisted as a member of the ‘War Wolf’ troop by Lieutenant Colonel Long Xiaoyun (Yu Nam) and tasked with assassinating a notorious criminal. Ming Deng and his group of hired mercenaries will not betaken down quietly as they try to finalise a plan which threatens the nation of China. Only Feng’s sniper skills can put an end to the drug lord’s nefarious plot, but at what cost?
There is a lot at fault with Wu Jing’s Wolf Warriors or, at best, there are things that are ‘off’ about it. The first thing that struck me were the acting skills of the non-Chinese cast which were incredibly wooden and the conversations between English (complete with subtitles) and Mandarin speakers, in which there is no correlation between to two languages and yet they both understand each other, were really lazy. Next, our hero passes the initiation into an elite branch of the special forces by simply flirting with the female Lieutenant Colonel in an uncomfortable date-like scenario based in the isolation block of some army barracks. There’s also some really strange and out of place attempts at humour (or at least I think they are attempts at humour), such as the cigar smoking antics of the main antagonist.
The film is horribly predictable [spoiler alerts, if you want to want to find out for yourself]. The fate of the guy with a photo of his child is reminiscent of the Simpsons episode where McBain’s colleague shows him a photo of his new boat, The Live 4 Ever, just before he is brutally killed. We know he is going to die and it feels very patronising if the director thinks that he will take the audience by surprise. Unpredictably, however, the troop is attacked by a pack of wolves at one point in the movie which I expected to turn into an interesting plot point but it left the film as quickly as it arrived. I can’t help thinking that it held some symbolic significance but if it did it was totally lost on this viewer.
Cinematically, the movie is slickly shot with heaps of steady cam which reminded me of Saving Private Ryan and there was obviously no expense spared on this aspect of the film. The film also has a washed out look to it which adds a level of grit to the experience. There’s no denying that the film is action packed and in a few instances actually quite tense but people after a no-brain popcorn flick may be put off by the use of subtitles. While the effects during the action scene aren’t bad, there is one particular scene where someone’s arm is blown off (probably to satisfy the 3D element of the release) and the CGI used is laughably amateurish. I expect that the director was aiming for the shockingly visceral violence of the latest Rambo film and he fell a long way short.
Over the course of this review, I’ve convinced myself that I really did not like Wolf Warrior and have found very little of merit during its running time. Along with the rest of the directorial issues, the characters are one dimensional and I struggled to like the hero of the story due to his chauvinistic advances and consistently smug delivery. This mess of a film is not a good example of Asian cinema and while I’m sure there’s a reason to ‘fight for China’ this is not it!