Monday 14 August 2017

The Current Cinema - Barrie Pattison discovers Jacky Wu and his WOLF WARRIOR movies

A chum in the real world alerted me to Wolf Warrior II so I rolled up to the George Street center for the Saturday afternoon showing. Now I’m used to seeing these in the company of two or three isolated Asians or on occasion on my own, so it comes as surprise when the only seats left are in W row and, sure enough, at the end of the trailers and popcorn adverts, the place actually fills up. It was like the days of real movie going, except that the late comers were looking for the seats by the light of their cell phones. They still trample over you while the film is running and troop up and down the aisle during the show on their way to a candy bar. At the end, the bin was buried in empty Coke cans and plastic bottles. The only constant was that I was the only gweilo they had.

As the film runs, it becomes easy to see why this one is such a draw card. Director-star Jacky Wu had put this together as a dream project, they say, mortgaging his house and doing two years training with the People’s Liberation Army so that the martial arts moves are based on military training rather than the opera conventions of the kung fu movie.

Jacky Wu, Wolf Warrior 2
They start the way they mean to go with the titles on an ocean background ending as a speeding launch pushes into the blue frame. African pirates are after the cargo ship. Sailors are dropping under their fire. However, ex-Special Forces man Jacky is on board and immediately dives overboard and leaves the bad hats thrashing about roped together underwater.

While still moping about the demise of his old tootsie from part one, the fancy bullet which took her out hanging on a string round his neck, our hero is back in Africa. He reconnects with the cheery African kid with the sideline in selling porn and a Chinese mixed business proprietor who has taken out local nationality appalling right-thinking  nationals. However, the place comes under attack by red scarf wearing African rebels who go about zapping the locals and their structures.

Jacky takes out a few dozen or so of those and, having placed the kid in the security of the Chinese Embassy, sets out to retrieve his mother from an inland factory, collecting the winning Celina Jade (real life daughter of Bruce Lee antagonist Roy Horan) and the child protégé of the revered Chinese medical missionary who is working in a hospital on a cure for the lamala virus (something between the lambda phage and leprosy) coming under attack by outsize European mercenaries under orders to take the doctor hostage.

Celina Jade, Wolf Warrior 2
Jacky crosses the country, with Miss Jade thinking better of leaving the red car when she finds they have pulled up next to an authentic looking pride of lions devouring a zebra - great aerial shot of a lion racing along the road following the car. Chinese fighters, that the audience who know more about these than I do and recognise with applause, defend the factory but tensions emerge when the owner only wants to take Chinese workers to safety in the rescue helicopter and leave their Africans to the mercenaries and rebels. Such unworthiness is rapidly dismissed.

Frank Grillo, Wolf Warrior 2
We then get on with the serious business of the film - biffo with Frank Grillo’s hulking Europeans. They of course have hi-tech aids like two-foot wide drones which manage to carry three hundred rounds until the Asian marksmen blast them out of the skies. Russian Judo champ Oleg Prudius, striding though the action with the heavy duty machine gun and it’s ammunition box, is particularly imposing and blonde Heidi Moneymaker is carefully denied her share of close-ups in case the audience start rooting for her.

The film just keeps on going - Wu is infected with the deadly virus, him sending back a cell phone signal, showing the unarmed Chinese civilians (plenty more where they came from) being mown down by the nasties, to the digital Chinese Navy waiting off shore for UN approval before they launch the missiles that can take out enemy war machines over the horizon with astounding accuracy and a climax in which the rebel tanks crash through the wall and end up doing auto stunt work.

The plot has a distant connection to an actual rescue the Chinese conducted in Africa. The production is elaborate and wide screen colour is better than we usually get in Chinese movies. Wu is well on the way to being the most agreeable super hero we have and he’s got the moves. Miss Jade is the suitable mix of spunky and vulnerable and the lovable black kids and singing mum space the action. Apart from the fact that the skin colour coding has been reversed this is a superior rendition of the action movie formula we recognise. The finale where Jacky’s driven through the hostile camp, the Chinese red flag flying on his raised arm, is irresistible. I felt like joining in the spontaneous (though somewhat nervous) cheer it raised in George Street.

Wolf Warrior (1)
So I pondered how I could  have been so slack as to let Jacky Wu run up to speed without my attention. He’s gangbusters on his home turf. Where was I when they launched Kung Fu Cyborg? Still on a high, I did the three blocks to Chinatown, intent on finding Wolf Warrior (One). The effort was not wasted. In the market’s complex first floor novelty store I located a sixteen (!) Jacky Wu movie disc set for ten dollars. The quality is not great and it would be the Wolf movie that was the one that only had Chinese sub-titles but I mean...

Yu Nan (Long Xiaoyun), Wolf Warrior (1)
Wolf Warrior I proved to be the prototype.  As with the Terminator or Mad Max movies, the second entry looks like being the best. The first one is less complex and not staged on the same scale but it’s not too dusty on its own.

Having taken down the drug lord’s son in a shoot-out, Jacky is thrown into the brig but lady officer Long Xiaoyun makes him a deal the exact nature of which didn’t cross the language barrier and Jacky is flown out on a rope under a military chopper to a training camp where the landing pad has the unit symbol laid out on it. He manages to make purple smoke hit-indicators go off in the commander’s HQ impressing all. There’s also a scene where the soldiers take down a pack of nasty looking but clearly digital wolves.

Unbeknownst to them, villainous Scott Adkins’ hulking European mercenaries are after the price the drug lord put on Jacky's head. Their first encounters leave the Chinese special force guys armed only with smoke flares and blanks (think Walter Hill’s Southern Comfort). In one encounter, the slightly built Chinese soldier faces off with the giant Euro heavy with a thumping great machete (think Legend of the Judo 2 or Blood on the Sun if you’re into role reversal). The nasties take down one soldier and then pick off the others who try to rescue him (think Full Metal Jacket) but Jackie tells him not to off himself with his side arm. He has a solution not unlike the one he used to get the drug son behind a concrete wall. The combat is watched in a computer simulation by the commander.

We are promised Wolf Warrior III in which Jacky leaves the tundra to take on ISIS and rescue his lost Long Xiaoyun. Put me down for that one.

There are some curious undercurrents. Red shoulder flashes proudly announce “We fight for China.” Both the villainous rebel commander and the Chinese navy seek the endorsement of the U.N. Celina Jade says the U.S. marines are the world’s best fighters and Jacky says “OK why aren’t they here?”

Now Casablanca was John F. Kennedy’s favourite movie. Richard Nixon urged Americans to share the moral lessons he found in John Wayne movies, Bill Clinton thought the White House screening room was one of the great perks of his job and Barack Obama made a point of being filmed going to the theater showing The Interview. There’s got to be some way to make Trumpy watch Wolf Warrior.

I tell you when the ICBMs start flying, forget about Rambo, Captain Phillips and  the Zero Dark Thirty lot. It’s Jacky Wu making crossbows with bolts tipped in cactus sap that we want to have on our side.

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