Wolf Warrior 2 (Wu Jing, 2017)

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Somewhat surprisingly, Wu Jing’s Wolf Warrior 2 is smashing box office records across China, on pace to overtake last year’s The Mermaid as the number one Chinese film of all-time. Wu is probably the greatest Chinese martial arts star of his generation, best known here in the US for his starring role in SPL 2: A Time for Consequences, which the best action film to play here last year. He both stars and directs, as he did with Wolf Warriors, released in 2015. In the first one, he plays Leng Feng, a badass soldier who gets recruited into the Wolf Warrior brigade of the People’s Liberation Army, an elite special forces unit. During a training exercise, he and his squadmates are attacked by a multiethnic band of vicious mercenaries led by Scott Adkins who was hired by a drug lord seeking revenge on Leng for murdering his brother, and also as the cover for a scheme to steal a virus that only kills Chinese people. The film is an unabashed propaganda piece about the skills, technology and valor of the PLA, but it’s got a lot of cool jungle action and it moves along quickly.

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The sequel finds Leng kicked out of the army (for the crime of attacking a scummy landlord) and depressed (because his girlfriend, the leader of the Wolf Warriors) has gone missing and is presumed dead. He’s working on a boat based in a fictional country in Africa which is in the middle of a civil war and also suffering from an outbreak of a fictional disease. After making his way through war-torn streets to the safety of the Chinese Embassy with an old Chinese man and his young African godson, Wu is sent back into the country to rescue Chinese factory workers (and the boy’s mother) and also to rescue a Chinese doctor, who may have a cure for the fatal disease. He doesn’t save that doctor, but he does rescue a much prettier one, along with a young girl. They flee to the factory, where they are quickly surrounded by the rebel army and targeted by a multiethnic band of vicious mercenaries led by Frank Grillo.

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Like with The Raid 2, adding more plot and “character” to an action movie sequel doesn’t necessarily make it better, just longer (25% longer, in this case), but the expanded variety of locations make for even more thrilling action. Wu and his stunt team, led by action director Sam Hargrave (a veteran Hollywood stuntman who also coordinated Atomic Blonde, Captain America: Civil War and Suicide Squad), are quick and inventive in their setups, and the film abounds with impressive vehicle chases and gunfights, and has more hand-to-hand fighting than the first film. The opening sequence, in which Wu defends his ship from pirates in a faux single-take done almost entirely under water, is undoubtedly the coolest movie-opening action setpiece since Resident Evil: Retribution. Wu’s seeming preference for piling plot upon plot does his films no service (shouldn’t the war be enough, why the virus too? Same with the first film: maybe a smart drug lord would wait until after his deal to steal a deadly virus to bring the entire PLA down on his attempted border-crossing), but he’s helped by a decent supporting cast. Grillo out-Richard Nortons Scott Adkins’s work in the first film. Wu Gang is solid as the aged leader of the factory’s security team (he’s former PLA so you know he’s the best of the best). Large man Oleg Prudius is a lot of fun as the large villain Bear. And Celina Jade is very pretty as Pretty Doctor (she doesn’t get much to do besides explain plot and be in peril, but she does it well). A half-hearted metaphor playing on the title about lone wolves versus packs was abandoned midway through the first film, and there really isn’t much else the film has to say except that Chinese people are awesome. The film is flag-waving nonsense (literally in this case, as at one point Wu turns himself into a human flag pole), but it also has Wu Jing driving a tank, so you should probably see it.