Following on the success of The Unity of Heroes, Vincent Zhao returns to the iconic role of Chinese folk-hero Wong Fei Hong one more time for a thrilling old-school throwback martial arts epic. Employing prolific editor Marco Mak in the director’s chair after taking on the editing role for the original six movies in the “Once Upon a Time in China” series that explored the exploits of Fei Hong in the 1990s, this new effort arrives on DVD, Blu-Ray combo-pack Digital on February 18 from WellGo USA.
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Caught in a state of political turmoil, Huang Fei Hong (Vincent Zhao) and his friend Liang Kuan (Li Lubing) find themselves dragged into the war between the Federal government and the dangerous White Lotus society. Attempting to intervene on behalf of the government, they find the Lotus society as a ploy for the invading Imperial Japanese army attempting to covertly pit the Chinese against each other to allow them to take over the country on their own. Shifting their focus to the Japanese general (Kenya Sawada) and his assistant (Miya Muqi) who are attempting to use the distraction in a coup for the control of the country, they utilize their skills and bravery to stop the invading forces.
For the most part, “Warriors” was quite enjoyable. This is mostly when it’s centered on the kung-fu aspects of the story. The idea of making it quite clear from the beginning that the White Lotus group was willing to fight. This places the first confrontation with Fei Hong and the group mere minutes into the running time, focusing on the usual high-flying acrobatics that is present in the genre. These include flying through the air with no propulsion, acrobatic twists and turns and even floating atop the ground on a silk-shawl like a pathway among other great martial arts techniques. Likewise, the various battles against the society members in their headquarters, a battle with sumo-practicing henchmen and a later battle featuring the students taking on the ninjas stealing the pendent for their quest are quite fun and set the stage for the fun finale. Taking on multiple fights at once and tending to showcase the performers at their peak with great hand-to-hand fighting and the occasional touches of wire-fu incorporated into the more grounded and realistic kung fu and swordplay, this is the highlight of the film and manages to be quite enjoyable.
However, there’s not a lot else to like here with “Warriors.” The main crux here is the stumbling screenplay by Niu Xinyao, Gao Yuhao, Ning Li and Zhenxiao that perfectly captures having too many cooks in the kitchen. The White Lotus sect is introduced and dispatched barely a quarter into the film and serves as a springboard for the political intrigue at the heart of the plot. However, it keeps them out of the picture until the very end where you’ve forgotten the sect was even a part of the film. The rest of the story doesn’t tend to feel very threatening at all with the potential outcome of the whole exercise is the overthrowing of China by the Japanese as there’s no gravity to the upcoming war. The opening scene is Chinese loyalists wanting to take the fight to the Imperial Japanese army and then gets completely scrubbed out until the end, making the series of double-crosses, traitors and secret alliances feel quite unimportant. The romantic subplot between Fei Hong and Shaojun goes nowhere, while the less said about his friends the better. The whole thing serves as an excuse to get to the fighting and is remarkably admirable for that quality, but the film doesn’t have anything else going on.
As a one-note display of kung-fu fighting, “Warriors of the Nation” scores solidly in that regard with plenty of action and great choreography but has very little on display. Give this a go if you’re a fan of the first one, enjoy old-school kung-fu films or looking for a simplistic action-packed film while viewers who are more demanding of their films might be somewhat letdown here.