Wu Jing‘s 2015 directorial effort, Wolf Warrior, is a somewhat underwhelming and overly jingoistic action film where the high point is a fight with CG wolves. He stars as well, but the action scenes — including a disappointing fight with the typically reliable Scott Adkins — fail to impress. The film was a hit though. And now two years later Wu returns both behind and in front of the camera for a superior sequel.
Leng Feng (Wu Jing) has been stripped of his military rank and membership in the elite fighting unit known as Wolf Warriors after crossing paths with authority figures in rural China, so he heads out to sea. Specifically, he heads to the waters off the African coast where he works as tanker security and tries to track down the owner of the bullet that claimed his lover’s life. Trouble arises though when a rebel force threatens the unnamed African nation including an eminent Chinese doctor and the workers at a Chinese-owned factory. With no other help available, Leng Feng heads into the fray.
His efforts see him cross paths with a young doctor (Celina Jade), an adopted African girl. And a mercenary named Big Daddy (Frank Grillo) who’s leading a squad in support of the rebels. What do you think the odds are that he’s somehow connected to the death of Leng Feng’s girlfriend? Hmm?
Wolf Warrior 2 still suffers some of the same issues that dogged the first film. But the improvements elsewhere make for a noticeably better and more entertaining action movie.
The script, co-written by Wu, is typically simple action fare despite getting a bit busy when it comes to tertiary characters on either side of the fray. Separated from his unit. Leng Feng has fewer opportunities to wax patriotic. But Wu ensures more than a few chances arise anyway whether it be through dialogue choices praising China’s refugee efforts, digs at Western actions, or the final shot of a Chinese passport promising the government’s support for its citizens abroad. It’s evident but still far less obtrusive than it was in the preceding film. Wu also relies far too heavily on CG for many of his action sequences. Wire removal is one thing, but CG blood, rockets, chopper crashes, and worse serves as ugly splashes against an otherwise attractive film.
The issues are minor in comparison to what it gets right, and what it gets right is the action… The occasionally brutal, frequently ridiculous, always entertaining action.
We open strong with a tanker under siege by pirates. And as they disable the ship’s propellers Leng Feng simply dives into the ocean, capsizes a pirate skiff, and proceeds to beat up its occupants underwater without coming up once for air. It’s a scene straight out of Jackie Chan’s First Strike but without the shark-related comedy, and it just works. The action shifts to dry land going forward as he fights rebels with his fists, feet. And whatever weaponry he can find, and before you ask yes. Of course he stops a rocket-propelled grenade with a mattress box-spring before tossing it away to explode.
Later action sees him crafting homemade crossbows, engaging in a pretty solid car chase through a shanty town, and taking part in tank fights the likes of which you’ve never seen before. They “rub” paint in scenes straight out of Days of Thunder, do skids around corners, and even parallel park. Some of it’s CG, but all of it’s ridiculous fun.
It’s no spoiler to say that Wu and Grillo eventually meet man to man. But the surprise comes in how much better the fight is than the one between Wu and Adkins was. This is a brutal, well-choreographed brawl that ends the film on a high note.
Wolf Warrior 2 still pales beside Wu’s work in films like SPL — or against the pre-2000 filmography of Chan who Wu seems at times to be emulating. But it’s a solid action movie all the same. The expected pro-China rhetoric is present. But surprises like multiple references to interracial relationships between Chinese men and African women tease a more worldly awareness than Chinese films (phim hanh dong 2020) typically express. It’s a fun movie blending lots of action, some humor, and “feelings” for friends and family. And if the next one improves at this same rate Wolf Warrior 3. Teased in a mid-credits scene is going to be something even more special.