Saturday, September 08, 2007

Rogue Assassin aka War

Let's See Who Kicks Whose Ass

War undergoes one of those unnecessarily title changes for this part of the world, naming itself after Jet Li's assassin character Rogue. Billed as "The Ultimately Martial Arts Duel of the Year", the person who wrote that blurb for Rogue Assassin obviously hasn't seen many movies, or martial arts ones for that matter, or is plain lying through the teeth. You'd half expect that pitting two action stars against one another will instantly mean box office success by pulling in fans of both Jet Li and Jason Statham, but it's a downright insult as you don't see any punches pulled between the two for 99% of the time.

Jason Statham actually starred opposite Jet Li in the movie called The One back in 2001, where Li had no decent cinematic opponent to spar with, and had to do so with himself, assisted by CGI. With his movies like Crank and The Transporter doubles becoming guilty pleasures (read: just Statham kicking up a storm without a reasonable story to boot), I'd actually come to enjoy his work choreographed by Corey Yuen (who also does the action choreography here), together with other ensemble movies he starred in, like The Italian Job and Snatch, amongst others. It's no doubt I'm a fan, but in Rogue Assassin, all he had to show off his fighting chops, was a sequence in a ubiquitous teahouse.

But Jet Li fared no better too. His Hollywood foray had been more misses than hits, either playing assassins or cops like in Kiss of the Dragon, or be stuck in roles that require little dialogue and only to look bad-ass, like in Lethal Weapon 4, and Cradle 2 the Grave. Or the easiest of all, forget dialogue and kick around like a mad dog - no offense but that's what he really did in Unleashed (which I thought the notion of it all was rather degrading for an action star). Nonetheless he goes back to a story on warring factions again ala Romeo Must Die, but this time, it's not between boyz in the hood, but putting Japanese Yakuza and Hong Kong Triads in the streets of San Francisco.

As I mentioned earlier, there's nothing martial arts here. Everything is guns, guns and more guns, with a complimentary sword fight put in, but not between the touted leads. The action sequences, from fights to chases to stunts all looked rather tired and rehashed, with absolutely nothing that will make you go "wow, that's nothing I've seen before". Statham and Li share no more than 5 minutes together in the same scene, and only at best a minute bashing each other up, in the dark, in a narrow dock warehouse, before launching into more verbal mumbo jumbo.

Everything here is a caricature, and not even a cliched revelation saved the movie, when it had expected to, except to give some runway to a possible sequel. War/Rogue Assassin reeks of plain laziness, and plays out like a cartoon. In trying to be sophisticated, having to label locales with "The Triad Warehouse", or "The Yakuza Lair" was just plain hilarious, unintentionally of course. The number of supporting caricatures, some recognizable Asian actors, all fall into the realm of predictability, and the villains are all too smug and too boring. You have HK actor Mark Cheng (from his latest movie Invisible Target) lending his charisma but becoming a laughing stock, John Lone demonstrating he's still very much being typecast in Hollywood roles, Devon Aoki continuing to be that flower vase who doesn't look good up close (somehow the cinematic camera dislikes her), and hey, once TV actress from this part of the world, Steph Song, gets a cameo too, spending most of the screentime screaming.

Everything's pure flash with zero substance. Even in trying to be a little sophisticated in its plot, it decided to allow some plot loopholes to go through an exercise of the implausible, and put in some major character motivation error. But then again, we're talking about cartoony caricatures here, so that probably won't matter. It became a victim of its own star casting - you don't know who you want as the bad guy, and as a result, becomes a below par mediocre, generic action movie that you can stick some other monkeys in and still work. No wonder Jet Li warned to keep expectations low for this movie.

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