Fistful Of Vengeance Review: Netflix Concludes The Wu Assassins Saga With A Realistic Film

In 2019, the Netflix drama Wu Assassins concluded after only one season, with an ending that was more like sequel-baiting than a real cliffhanger. Although several plots were left hanging, the tale of San Francisco chef Kai (Iko Uwais) and his friends battling the elemental Wu Lords reached a conclusion.

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Wu Assassins is a flawed show that has uneven writing and strange character behavior, yet it succeeds in making its derivative fantasy world intriguing. It does, however, owe much to the appealing cast led by Uwais, Lewis Tan, and Byron Mann. Netflix has now delivered the series’ feature-length conclusion, Fistful of Vengeance, which fully realizes on the series’ promise — at least in terms of quantity, if not quality.

Kai is chosen by an ancient power called the Dao in Wu Assassins to become the Wu Assassin, a fighter endowed with supernatural skills and assigned with fighting the Wu Lords of Fire, Wood, Earth, Metal, and Water. The fights are plentiful and fairly consistent, with just one restriction: When the program relies too strongly on its supernatural elements, it loses the kinetic energy of Uwais’s fighting style, diluting it with intangible and unengaging CGI superpowers. When the show allows the cast to demonstrate their talents, it’s at its best, and the various directors — including The Dead Lands’ Toa Fraser, Tai Chi Hero’s Stephen Fung, and DTV actioners frequent Roel Reiné — generally appeared to get it.

Fistful Of Vengeance Review: Netflix Concludes The Wu Assassins Saga With A Realistic Film
Fistful Of Vengeance Review: Netflix Concludes The Wu Assassins Saga With A Realistic Film

Reiné returns to direct Fistful of Vengeance, and he appears to have noticed the issue—fantasy elements and special effects are less prominent this time around. Reiné fully immerses himself in the position of making a film that functions as both a series conclusion as well as a stand-alone feature for those who haven’t seen the series. Goodbye, San Francisco’s Chinatown: The movie starts in Bangkok, Thailand, where Kai (Liu), former stolen-car dealer Lu Xin (Tan) and former triad member Tommy (Lawrence Kao) are on a new mission for vengeance.

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They must immediately battle “Jiangshi,” or “Chi vampires” — an apparently modernized take on the legendary hopping vamps of Hong Kong and Chinese cinema. Soon they discover that their quest is intricately entwined with Ku An Qi’s (Yayaying Rhatha Phongam, of Only God Forgives), a supernatural being who seeks to resurrect Pan Gu, the world’s first man and reshape it in her own image.

The plot’s foundation – supernatural evil strives to engage supernatural energy – is conventional and light on originality, yet its simplicity helps the film move at a rapid clip. The team, which now includes new personalities Preeya and Zama, moves from one site to the next as the heroes try to stop Ku. The film also introduces Zan (JuJu Chan), who audiences will recall as a ferocious, outstanding fighter. Once the tale is established, three major action sequences account for most of the remaining time, suggesting the picture’s quick efficiency.

The first of those three fights unfold in a hotel and its adjoining parking garage, where the protagonists are separated into smaller groups. It’s a perfect way to create contained, intense action, though the jumpy cuts back and forth between locations make it hard to settle into the moment.

Fistful Of Vengeance Review: Netflix Concludes The Wu Assassins Saga With A Realistic Film
Fistful Of Vengeance Review: Netflix Concludes The Wu Assassins Saga With A Realistic Film

When Uwais fends off two assailants in a narrow staircase, with bloody, messy consequences, it’s difficult not to think of The Raid or The Night Comes For Us. However, the brutality of the sequence never feels as real or accessible as it did in earlier Uwais movies. The intrusive, incongruous music that never fits the film’s mood is an issue that crops up repeatedly. Alternatively, quiet ambient music or even no music at all would have aided the sequence a lot more effectively.

Tommy, of the original series characters, stands out the most in his development, from a helpless loser to a driven, angry man on a mission. Kao does an excellent job and emerges as a convincing major protagonist. With Tan and Uwais as potent as ever, though, they aren’t given a lot to do beyond the action hero roles. It’s a pity, knowing how much these actors can breathe life into the most basic of scripts as long as they’re given enough room to develop the people. Some fans may be disappointed to find that some of their favorite characters from the series are missing, such as Katheryn Winnick’s character, who is never mentioned.

In Fistful of Vengeance, real character moments are uncommon. Action movies frequently have to develop characters through fight sequences in order to flesh them out, but Reiné is too focused on spectacular show-stopping spectacle to go down that road. At the very least, Preeya has enough backstory to allow her a few emotional scenes.

The third new female ally of the group, Interpol officer Zama, has a history with Lu Xin, and their love affair is rekindled. While it’s barely outlined and far too convenient, it is nevertheless an acceptable addition to the tale given that it allows for a tiny breathing space in a hectic script; Tan and Pearl Thusi use their combined charisma to persuade the audience for just a few fleeting seconds when it counts.

Fistful Of Vengeance Review: Netflix Concludes The Wu Assassins Saga With A Realistic Film
Fistful Of Vengeance Review: Netflix Concludes The Wu Assassins Saga With A Realistic Film

In conclusion, the flaws in the script have become a serious barrier to progress. The authors drop several important storylines and introduce numerous characters into scenes where they are not needed, among other things. The series version’s moral lesson, that we should all help others in need if we can, has been abandoned for a focus on the main characters’ personalities. This makes it difficult to understand or relate to their actions.

Reiné undeniably wants to give the most exciting action film feasible, with spectacular set-ups and stunts from Uwais’ team as well as from industry vet Kawee Sirikanaerut in films such as Ong-Bak, Born to Fight, The Protector, Rambo 4, Extraction, and 2021’s Kate. While the accomplishments are appropriately daring, Reiné’s direction frequently lets them down. He has some good ideas about how to support action, such as utilizing an aerial shot to pan back and forth between two groups of fighters to offer viewers a clear idea of every group’s position in terms of the others in the enormous structure.

When Uwais attempts a standard one-vs.-many fight, however, Reiné’s problems with extras waiting their turn to fight and be defeated persist. Choreography or camera placement may help a film avoid this problem by disguising it; nevertheless, Reiné simply provides up a stationary medium-wide shot that displays every fault.

Reiné’s recent efforts, such as The Delivery and Adrenaline, have shown improvement. His work on the DTV action market with The Marine 2 and Hard Target 2 has been outstanding. He clearly tried to up his game with Fistful of Vengeance.

His concepts and ambitions come to a head in a one-take fight between Kai and several foes, with the camera sweeping from character to character. According to Lewis Tan, the sequence was shot using a bolt robot camera rig programmed with an algorithm that directs it to move about on its own, requiring performers to modify their routines to match its movements.

Fistful Of Vengeance Review: Netflix Concludes The Wu Assassins Saga With A Realistic Film
Fistful Of Vengeance Review: Netflix Concludes The Wu Assassins Saga With A Realistic Film

The camera moves become mechanical, and the fight appears to be full of digital transitions. The arrangement, however, gives the sequence a distinct style that is defined by fits and starts. The fighting is mostly based in solid martial arts, but the style adds a supernatural element to the sequence, making it tough to know how to follow what’s going on.

This scene, like the film as a whole, was created with an incredible amount of effort and imagination. Renié and his crew sought to make Fistful of Vengeance a particularly realistic, raw, and filthy action movie in which fighters are more likely to slash at each other with machetes than duel with swords.

However, the camera-rig experiment eliminates any room for creativity, flexibility, or human error, and it makes the battle seem too polished and lackadaisical. This film had the possibility to become a new martial arts classic in the hands of a more accomplished director. In Reiné’s, it’s the sort of thing that works well as a Netflix late-night entertainment, but never rises above “just another excellent mid-tier actioner.”

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