When a series gets the early cancellation treatment, it is a sign that the creators were not able to capitalize on the idea, or that they were not able to attract the audience. Wu Assassin was one of those shows. Starring Iko Uwais, the fantastic protagonist of The Raid duology, it seemed like Wu Assassins was a match made in heaven by putting the actor into an environment where his martial arts prowess could be put on display. Sadly, the show didn’t fulfill that promise, and the show was canceled.
Only to be resurrected years later in the shape of a film that could close the characters’ storylines. You would think that in that time, the creators would have had the time to think about why the show failed in the first place. However, that isn’t the case, as Fistful of Vengeance fails once again to make these characters in this story interesting, and only manages to overcome this obstacle thanks to a cast full of professional performers.
Fistful of Vengeance is directed by Roel Reiné and stars Iko Uwais, Lewis Tan, Jason Tobin, and Francesca Corney. The film takes our heroes on another adventure as they try to defeat the evil spiritual forces that put the world in danger.
Wu Assassin had a lot of problems. All of them are still present in this film; the characters are paper thin, the storylines are muddled and confusing, the mythology defines the word “boring,” and the production values are not the highest by any means.
Uwais is an excellent fighter, and he has proved before that he can show a lot of charisma and relatability on camera. It is a shame that in all of his American productions he is used as nothing more than a kicking machine. It is clear that he isn’t the greatest actor, but he deserves a lot more confidence from the director and the writers. Iko is a star, and he deserves to show it.
The same can be said for Lewis Tan. He’s an exceptional fighter and stun artist, but his presence on camera is zero, as the camera never stays too long on him. Francesca Corney comes across as a charming and kind of interesting character, and yet, her acting is pretty bad, especially when it comes to delivering her most emotional scenes. She has potential, though.
The plot is just another of those big issues, as the movie tries to develop some kind of mystery and tries to raise stakes constantly, but saying something is dangerous and feeling something is dangerous are two different things. In the Raid films, director Gareth Evans, in company with Uwais, managed to create some of the most nerve wracking action sequences ever put on film. In Fistful of Vengeance, each fight is delivered with gusto by the performers, but because the characters and what they want, don’t matter, it is hard to get invested in the resolution of these action moments.
The mythology and lore that the movie also tries to present are boring and confusing at best. Things just happen in the film because the script says so, but there is really no amount of logic put into place. When the exposition comes in, minds go out.
Director Roel Reiné has made a living out of directing a bunch of direct-to-video movies, all of them with low budgets and all of them with stories that are just there to serve as excuses for action sequences. He takes the same approach with Fistful of Vengeance, but thankfully, the cast is great enough to overcome most of his weird decisions.
It is true that the film looks a bit better than one of the episodes of the show, but not by much. A lot of the creative decisions seem rather dated, like, for example, covering the screen with a sepia filter, the one used in countless other films to present foreign locations. The framing of shots matters very little, and the movie just looks ugly from any point of view.
The editing is also incredibly choppy, and it is at its worst during the beginning of the film. It is strange that action sequences starring such amazing performers need so much cutting. It is hard to follow the action most of the time, and there’s just too much coverage, a sign of poor preparation during the pre-production.
Not all is bad, though. There’s a fantastic fight towards the middle of the movie involving a street intersection, and there the editing, camera work, and choreography find the perfect balance. A balance that would have been great to have in the final fight. A fight that builds a lot of hype around it, thanks to the use of a long shot and a robotic camera à la Kendrick Lamar. It is a cool fight, but sometimes the use of this robotic camera trick goes on for too long. A lot more variety in the camerawork would have made the fight even more awesome.
If what you are looking for is just a movie that can entertain you for at least 90 minutes, then Fistful of Vengeance is fine. But it could have been a perfect ten if all the scenes were of the quality of that amazing fight in the streets of Bangkok. If anything, the movie was shot in some pretty cool locations, and it does leave you with the feeling of wanting to go to some exotic places in Asia.
Netflix and the Wu Assassin creators had the chance to fix and improve upon the ideas that defined the series, but instead, they chose to keep making the same mistakes and just go with it. This makes the film have a lot of momentum. There’s never enough time to question the things that are happening. When it ends, you can only hope that if there is a sequel, they take the time to learn from their mistakes and take advantage of the incredible abilities of Iko Uwais and the rest of the cast.
Fistful of Vengeance doesn’t really match the quality of shows like Into the Badlands or Warrior. Nevertheless, it works well enough to be a mindless action movie that can entertain you for at least 90 minutes of its running time. Maybe if the movie is successful enough, the show can have another chance. We can only wait.