Warriors of the Nation movie review
Chinese patriotism once again takes on the evil Japanese.
2018’s Unity of Heroes web film was not a very good film by any means but its moderate success has warranted itself a sequel. Vincent Zhao once again reprises his iconic role as Wong Fei Hung in Warriors of the Nation as well as serving as one of the many producers on the project.
During a street parade where the White Lotus Clan marches the streets chanting slogans of foreign devil eradication and a civilian march protesting against the Japanese ends in a clash of both parties, Wong Fei Hung jumps into the fray fighting off a female cult member.
In an attempt to obtain the imperial seal the White Lotus ambushes the local Minister luckily the Minister’s right-hand man manages to flee with the seal and makes it to Wong Fei Hung. Fei Hung and his trusted sidekick Leung Foon storms the White Lotus Clan base and successfully unmasks the White Lotus Clan’s leader and exposes his fraudulent abilities.
Soon the Japanese attack Po Chi Lam in which Butcher Wing, Bucktooth So, Aunt Thirteen and Lu Xiaoyue are forced to fend off the assailants but the Japanese forces still manage to flee with the seal in hand.
Fei Hung and Leung Foon sneak into the brothel / Japanese base to confront the lead Japanese general Jin Tian Yi Lang (Kenya Sawada) and the previously mentioned female cult member who is colluding with the Japanese.
Butcher Wing and Bucktooth So decide to have some fun and ventures to the very same brothel and they are confronted by the Japanese henchmen a fight ensures between Team Wong Fei Hung and the Japanese.
The editor turned director Marco Mak takes over directional duties from Lin Zhen Zhao who handled the previous film The Unity of Heroes. Mak has never been a strong director delivering some rather pedestrian features such as Naked Soldier (2012), Tracing Shadow (2009) and Xanda (2004) but he does instill a more entertaining affair than the previous outing.
Strangely the film uses a lot of dutch camera angles even in the illest fitting moments and the framing is pretty generic, cutting back and forth between the various actors with the few occasions placing two actors in the same frame.
Vincent Zhao seems more at ease this time around opposed to his rather bland outing in The Unity of Heroes but sadly this time around his character is afforded some rather odd actions, delivering some strange comedic beats.
Hong Kong’s regular Japanese actor Kenya Sawada whom you may recognize him from Jackie Chan’s Thunderbolt (1995), Shinjuku Incident, Hidden Man (2018) and The Legend is Born: Ip Man (2010) makes a strong villain turn, he has strong onscreen presence and is only let down with such an underdeveloped character afforded to him.
Li Luo Bing and Chen Chen both return in their respective roles from the previous outing, which they now seem to fit more comfortably. Also returning is Wei Ni as Aunt Thirteen but sadly this time any semblance of a strong independent woman is gone and now she is an overly attached female character.
The most welcome and surprising role reprisal is Wei Xiaohuan who had a bigger role in the Unity of Heroes but this time sideline to a small supporting role puts in one of the stronger performances.
The biggest disappointment is the absence of Clubfoot and instead, he is replaced by another iconic disciple Bucktooth So played by Gao Xuanming and this is the gravest mistake makes. Never has a Bucktooth So been as annoying as he is here, not only is he incompetent in any department associated with Wong Fei Hung, neither proficient in martial arts nor medicine he is also a massive pervert.
Gao Xuenming amps up his annoyance with an abundance of face pulling and going all gooey-eyed for the woman of his dreams. What the filmmakers were thinking by taking an iconic character from the Wong Fei Hung canon and destroy it the way they have done here is beyond comprehension.
Fights this time around are better handled with some reasonable choreography just hampered with some rather lackluster camera movements and angles. Often times with some rather quick cuts here and there.
The opening has a nice moment where Zhao’s Fei hung jumps into the fray and execute multiple kicks but oddly the filmmakers decided it would be good to have people running in front of the frame obscuring some of the moments.
The opening also shamelessly replays the exact same shot twice to pretend it’s a different moment in time but it’s clearly the same move and camera angle. Li Luo Bing once again fails to demonstrate any fighting prowess.
The finale pits Vincent Zhao against Kenya Sawada which is competent but nothing to make it truly stand it. Just like her previous outing in The Unity of Heroes Wei Xiaohuan delivers some very well executed movements. The is a lot of variety on display with sumo wrestlers, karate exponents, and katana fights.
The General March score is Wong Fei Hung’s staple theme it is something forever associated with the name. It makes a return here but it feels it lacks the grandiose scale of previous entries with fewer layers in its recording and comes across a bit compressed.
Never the less it’s here and it kicks in during some of the fights but it just happens there’s no build-up and it does not give that sense of triumph that is commonly felt during these moments, usually due to the fact that what plays on screen has not built towards that very moment.
The film literally borrows every element from other more successful films and outright ripping off its own Wong Fei Hung film Once Upon a Time in China (OUATIC) saga, with the inclusion of The White Lotus sect. and a female cult leader ala Red Lantern sect.
You have the female cult leader falling in love with Fei Hung just by setting eyes on him which something similar happens in OUATIC4.
You have a storming of the White Lotus Sect headquarters and lol and behold the sect leader is wearing metal plate to lie about his invincible skin, which if you are have seen OUATIC2 then this will sound oddly familiar.
But this is only the first half of the film after defeating the White Lotus Sect. The evil Japanese comes into the foreground and now Fei Hung has to take on yet another film about evil the Japanese, which has been done countless times Fist of Fury (1972), Ip Man (2008), Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen (2010) and Fearless (2006) just to name a few.
The film also takes one very iconic film moment and completely make it devoid of any emotional impact, during some questionable antics by Bucktooth So and Butcher Wing they encounter a guard at a brothel, as the disciples try to enter the guard points to a sign saying “No Dogs No Chinese allowed”, riled up, Butcher Wing smashes the sign and engages in a brawl. There is no moment of satisfaction or glory as the sign gets smashed, it happens and then goes like an empty nod to Bruce Lee.
Those used to seeing Wong Fei Hung as an invincible martial arts master will sadly be disappointed, here he manages to get himself caught and tied while he was trying to attack the female protagonist who happens to be bathing (!?!). As he is bound in order to break free he throws himself off of a 2nd-floor balcony and makes what must be the ugliest entry to a brawl in Wong Fei Hung’s series.
Warriors of the Nation is a better film than its predecessor it’s more concise and tighter in storytelling with a stronger variety of fights. Its pedestrian and pretty standard in all departments but it’s easy to digest it is only marred by a truly annoying character in the form of Bucktooth So.