Thursday, April 23, 2020

Warriors of the Nation / 黄飞鸿之怒海雄风 - Movie Review

The Movie: Warriors of the Nation / 黄飞鸿之怒海雄风

The Director: Marco Mak

The Cast: Vincent Zhao, Miya Muqi, Kenya Sawada, Lubing Li,

The Story: At the end of the Chino-Japanese War, top military officer Zhang Zhidong is kidnapped in the middle of the night by a militant organization called the White Lotus Society. When he overhears a sinister plot to overthrow the central government by China’s own military officials, Wong Fei-Hung knows he must rescue Zhang to protect China and prevent another war from happening.

The Review:
When I first discovered this movie it looked pretty fun and definitely something I would want to watch. What I didn't realize until I read a synopsis is that it is a continuation of the long running and storied Once Upon a Time In China franchise that has spanned several movies, a TV show, and two different actors playing the lead role. Jet Li was the original actor to play Wong Fei-Hung with Vincent Zhao taking over in the fourth installment. Knowing this movie was connected to a series I loved watching made my anticipation level go up quite a bit and I was prepared for high flying action, intense martial arts, and bits of comedy thrown in for fun.

I believe director Marco Mak had a hand in editing all the previous movies in the series although, as I am writing this, I am discovering there have been two other Wong Fei-Hung movies released recently so I have some catching up to do, and he really does pick things up right where the previous films left off in story, tone, and style which was both comforting and exciting to watch unfold. I mean, this is a brand new movie and it still felt exactly the same as when I first saw Jet Li kicking butt and saving his family from certain doom all those many years ago.

I like how even the look of the sets and backgrounds and fighting styles still have a very 80's and 90's vibe to them and I hope that was intentional. I wouldn't have wanted to see a really high tech, CGI filled explosion of effects from this franchise. The charm is in the kind of smallish nature to the stories and how supporting characters aren't just there to fight or for comic relief, they all play important roles in this story and in others over the years as well. This is a fully fleshed out universe and I really need to check out those other two movies. They are called The Unity of Heroes and Kung Fu League.

Vincent Zhao is pretty much perfect for this character and he also carries on the exact same as all the other times her has played Wong Fei-Hung who is the wise, strong, and comforting presence that is constantly surrounded by chaos and turmoil. Zhao does a great job of making everything around him look like it is happening to slow motion compared to the energy and presence he provides. I also really enjoyed Miya Muqi's performance as the leader of a ruthless clan of killers and she has a really cool, sexy persona which is also enhanced by her fighting styles.

Speaking of fighting, the first half of the movie has a fair amount of action although not real impressive but, as things progress to the finale, the action really picks up. The inevitable fight between Wong Fei-Hung and the Japanese bad guy, played by Kenya Sawada, was fantastic especially with all of the other action swirling around them. The fight choreographers really seemed to focus on making the finale something truly impressive while still keeping things contained to a single location.

The Verdict:
Warriors of the Nation is the high flying action movie I was looking for. What it lacks in originality, it more than makes up for in history and depth thanks to being part of a great franchise.

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