A Fistful of Vengeance and the Wu Assassins: A Link is Made
Reuniting part of the characters from Netflix’s cancelled Kung Fu Panda series for a feature-length stand-alone film, the film is a continuation of the original series.
This statement from “A Fistful of Vengeance” by Tommy (Lawrence Kao) is nearly meta. Wu Assassins, a 10-episode Netflix series focused on martial arts, will have a feature picture sequel in 2019 with Fistful of Vengeance. The Wachowskis, who previously produced Firefly and Serenity for Fox and Netflix, are behind this one (which also had a lot of martial arts).
There are two additional Wu Assassins protagonists in Fistful of Vengeance besides Tommy, who make cameo appearances. Uwais is back as Kai Jin, the San Francisco Chinesetown cook and final version of the Wu Assassin, an everlasting superhero fighter who wants to defend the world from the clutches of a group of criminals. Aside from Tommy, there’s also Lu (Lewis Tan), an ordinary human with absurd Kung Fu abilities. Wu Assassins, like AMC’s Into the Badlands, DirecTV’s Kingdom, and Cinemax’s Warrior, was a martial arts-driven program.
Inspired by the inclusion of Asians,
Wu Assassins was ahead of its time because of its mostly Asian cast. While Kung Fu: Resurrection was a precursor of Asian inclusion, it may have been a touch early. Kung Fu didn’t get the adulation that Kung Fu received, but that program came out at a time when the media was begging for some decent Asian representation. Kung Fu was hailed as a symbol of the “Stop Asian Hate” campaign and AAPI representation by a slew of critics.
The Wu Assassins possessed an almost clairvoyant awareness, even though the epidemic had already begun. There were subtle cultural allusions to the Asian American experience throughout the series. A clip from episode 7 “Legacy,” in which Uncle Six (Byron Mann) teaches a prejudiced diner waitress about the history and rights of Asian Americans, is included in Netflix’s teaser peek. Uncle Six and Kai then proceed to beat a band of aggrieved rednecks to a pulp, as if to drive home the point even more clearly. With an almost all-Asian ensemble, Fistful of Vengeance maintains this Asian inclusion atmosphere. “Like the Avengers… but Asian,” Tommy said.
Everyone was fighting with kung fu.
In Fistful of Vengeance, the AAPI community is just a minor supporting player. This movie series, like the program, is mostly a martial arts demonstration. The battle sequences in Fistful of Vengeance are much better than those in the first series. Like its predecessor, it doesn’t stray too far from the main narrative. One of the biggest flaws of Wu Assassins was that it was an obvious parody of other well-known martial arts movies, such as “The Chosen One,” “The Family Restaurant,” “The Defiance,” and “The Junkie Brother,” all of which had been used many times before. Half tribute, part rip-off, it borrows heavily from Highlander and Avatar: The Last Airbender.
The Wu Assassins were saved by a stellar group of martial arts experts. It’s easy for fans of the martial arts genre to recognize when an actor has just had a few months of training before shooting. His debut role in The Raid led to a succession of critically acclaimed yet horrific martial arts flicks, as well as a cameo in Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
Philip Tan, an experienced stuntman and martial artist, raised Tan from an early age. He was just out of Into the Badlands and on his way to starring in Mortal Kombat when he took up the part of Lu. They have good buddy-film chemistry between Uwais, Tan, and Kao. Instead of the Avengers, they remind me more of the Three Musketeers of Asia. Fast & Furious’ recipe for success relies heavily on the value of family, yet this film fails to do so.
Mark Dacascos (John Wick: Chapter 3: Parabellum), Katheryn Winnick (Vikings), and JuJu Chan Szeto (all from the original series) were also notable martial artists (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny). Only Chan Szeto, who reprises her role as Zan, is back. A Fistful of Vengeance is not a shortened version of Season 2 of the show. Now we’re dealing with a very different scenario.
Don’t Forget What Happened to the Wu Assassins.
The last act of the Wu Assassins, Fistful of Vengeance, stands alone. Ying Ying (Celia Au) tells Kai in the closing moment that “The world still needs the Wu Assassin,” and the restaurant starts to mysteriously fall in the final scene. Nonetheless, the teaser is pointless. Fistful of Vengeance does not include Au and Jenny (Li Jun Li), the restaurant owner and Tommy’s sister, respectively. There are three main characters in Fistful of Vengeance: Kai (the protagonist), Lu (the protagonist’s love interest), and Tommy (the antagonist). The last teaser seemed put on, as if the showrunners realized at the last minute that they needed something to pitch for Season 2. Now is the time for Netflix to go back and remove that sequence.
The action in Fistful of Vengeance is fast and furious from the get-go. An all-out battle breaks out in a Thai nightclub as Kai, Lu, and Tommy search for information, and they find themselves up against a jiangshi, a Chinese vampire. An action-packed kung fu movie that draws homage to Chinese mythology like Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is what this film is all about. There are echoes of The Raid in Fistful of Vengeance’s depiction of unrestrained violence. It’s almost like seeing battle porn. It’s just enough time to grab a bite and re-stock your liquor supply thanks to the film’s flimsy premise.
Pearl Thusi (Queen Sono) and Yayaying Rhatha Phongam (Fistful of Vengeance) have joined the cast, as have several other actors from other action shows (The Protector 2).The majority of the stunt crew are Thai, a country that first drew action cinema lovers’ attention twenty years ago with Tony Jaa and Panna Rittikrai’s bone-crunching films.
Your oyster is your oyster after a single fight in Bangkok.
Impressive drone images depict Thailand’s picture-perfect surroundings. Fistful of Vengeance’s broad bird’s-eye viewpoints on the fight boost it beyond the ordinary martial arts picture. In one scene, we see a vehicle being pursued in a parking structure, a rooftop poolside brawl, and then the car chase all over again. It’s one of many startlingly stunning sequences that serve as testaments to the filmmakers’ technical prowess, all shot using a drone.
The action in Fistful of Vengeance is where it shines. A chef’s knife skills are second to none, yet Uwais still manages to execute some of the finest elbow blows in cinema. Tan, who stands at 6′ 2″, has a formidable presence, but he backs it up with the quickness and accuracy that have come from years of practice. Fistful of Vengeance sees Kao leveling up substantially, despite his dancing training rather than his martial arts training. As for Chan Szeto, she’s got the talents necessary to be a villain who can hold her own against the lads in a fight to the death. There’s a lot of visual candy here for those who like combat choreography.
In the end, the focus of Fistful of Vengeance is on the action rather than the story. This is the incorrect genre if you’re hoping for a deep plot. A final fight between Kai and Lu in which the camera bobs and weaves between the fistfights is beautifully performed, as any excellent action picture should be, and the resulting one-on-one combat is spectacular and inventive. If you are a fan of martial arts, Uwais vs. Tan is a must-see.