Saturday, August 25, 2007

War (2007)

Not to long ago Huo Juan Jia aka Fearless (2006) was touted as Jet Li's final martial arts movie. For fans of his work in Romeo Must Die (2000), Cradle to the Grave (2003), The One (2001), Kiss of the Dragon (2001) and a host of other movies of varying quality, this was a sad moment. The slightly built Jet Li has a different style than other martial arts stars such as Jean-Claude Van Damme, Jackie Chan, Steven Seagal, etc. that is quite entertaining. He also brings a different "feel" to his movies.

Fortunately, in War (2007) he provides us a glimpse of what we have watched for so many years. Here is at least one more opportunity to catch glimpses of one of the most entertaining martial arts movie stars of the last two decades.

War starts out showing the easy camaraderie and friendship of Tom Lone (Terry Chen) and Jack Crawford (Jason Statham). They smoothly and seamlessly enter a combat zone. With ruthless efficiency they shoot enemy after enemy, working as a smooth, well-oiled team. Then they get separated. Crawford is shot by Rogue (Jet Li). As he lays wounded, Rogue approaches to finish him off. However, before Rogue can finish him, Lone shoots Rogue in the face, knocking him into the water from which his body will never be recovered.

While Crawford is recovering, the Crawford and Lone families plan to attend a football game together. However, while the Crawfords are traveling to the Lone residence Rogue returns, killing the Lone family and then disappearing.

The movie skips the ensuing three years but brief exposition catches us up. In the aftermath of the Lone deaths Crawford has become obsessed with finding the ghost-like Rogue who, however, seems to have dropped off the face of the earth. Meanwhile, Crawford has become the lead FBI man trying to take down the rival Triad and Yakuza crime families.

Suddenly Rogue reappears, bouncing back and forth between the families as he plays them off against each other which, in turn, causes an escalating war between those two entities.

This creates a situation where Crawford chases Rogue, the Triad, and the Yakuza while the Yakuza chases the Triad and Rogue and the the Triad chases the Yakuza and Rogue.

In a bloody an intense finale Rogue achieves his goals before coming face to face with Crawford for a final confrontation to resolve their differences and allow vengeance to be had.

There are several plot twists which are foreshadowed from early on, but never so obviously that you know what is going to happen or why Rogue is doing what he is doing. They are well-written and well-acted so you never leave the moment.

Statham is building a solid resume as an action hero with movies such as The Transporter (2002) and even the hideous Crank (2006) in which, despite the horrific plot, he still provides a credible performance as someone who can kick your butt in any kind of fight. War does nothing to slow this down as he is quite credible as a violent, capable combatant who is a worthy foe for anyone from highly trained Yakuza gangsters right up to Jet Li himself.

The crime bosses are sadly one dimensional, falling into the hackneyed movie roles almost all crime bosses have...but since they ultimately are a sideline story to the resolution of the Rogue versus Crawford conflict, this is a minor quibble indeed.

There is a car chase between Crawford and Rogue that is shorter than some we have seen and has little to offer as far as originality. It is no better and no worse than many other car chases we have seen and you might get the feeling, "Yes, I have seen all this before."

We do get to see a different side of Devon Aki. In the movie she plays crime daughter Kira and is a potentially lethal opponent of whom we do not see nearly enough. She seems more capable, more deadly, and a better opponent than anyone but Rogue and her final scene indeed provides plenty of fuel for a sequel where she seeks revenge.

In the end it was a quite satisfying movie that anyone with an interest in personal combat should see.

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