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What if you made a Jet Li film and Jet Li never came? Well, Dearest Chitlins, you’d have the magnum opus named War. I’m not going to expound too long and loud about this one, because it’s just not worth the carpal tunnel. If Li Lianjie (- that’s Jet Li in Mandarin to you, Gwai Lo!) couldn’t be buggered, then, really, why should I? 

That sad thing is there’s everything to recommend the thing at the outset. You’ve got Jet, you’ve got Jason Statham, who We have luv, luv, luvved since Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. This is the reteaming of the two from Jet’s first US-made starring role in The One, back in 2001. Corey Yuen is the martial arts choreographer. Yuen, whose close association with Jet Li dates back to some of Jet’s most remarkable films like The Enforcer and Fists of Fury 1991. Luis Guzman, whose mighty charms elevate the most minor roles (- though, boy, is he put to the test here). John Lone who captivated this pachyderm decades ago covered in fuzz in Ice Man from 1985 and in yellow silk as Pu Yi in Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Last Emperor. And you’ve even got Kane Kosugi, son of Sho Kosugi of the 1980’s Ninja film series in a bit part. Something for everybody!  

The plot is barely worth speaking of; it’s such a warmed-over trifle. Two cops, one murdered, the surviving partner (Statham) ruins his life to get revenge on mysterious assassin (Li). Meanwhile, said assassin plays both sides up the middle in a Japanese Yakuza vs. Chinese Triad battle smack dab in the middle of lovely San Francisco. Many chases with fancy cars are had, much gunplay and general lawlessness achieved without so much as a girl scout troop happening into the frame, never mind a SWAT team or even a beat cop. Is the assassin really what he seems? Are the good guys? Will Jet Li open up a can of Wu Shu on everybody? Sad to spoil it for anyone, but the answer to all these questions - and to whether or not you should spend $11 on this flick - is no. 

The deathly dull performance by Jet Li made my extremely high opinion of him waver (- for half a second). Why show up for a film you’re obviously so uninvolved in? It’s clear from the outset that this production is beneath Jet, but it’s certainly no less a masterpiece than Cradle 2 the Grave. I happen to think that in his Hong Kong films (- and also in the underrated Luc Besson production, Danny the Dog/Unleashed), Jet Li exhibits considerable charm when he wants to. In War, he can’t be mustered to raise his pulse above coma-level, even in his precious few fight scenes. The lack of Jet Li doing any of the wonderful things that people pay good money to see Jet Li do, hobbles this film irrevocably, and no amount of gunfire and car chases is going to save it.  

The renderings of both Japanese and Chinese cultures are done in such a Cliff Notes manner, it’s almost insulting (- all these “Yackoozas” running around!). Devon Aoki plays the badass daughter of the badass Japanese bad guy. I reckon this casting decision was brought about due to her silent but deadly turn in Robert Rodriguez’s Sin City. Would that there was any of that promise shown here; her millisecond of physical dexterity here is nothing to speak of at all. Aoki’s fractured Japanese was painful even to my Gaijin ears, and all I could wonder was, if, for her character’s few lines  - mostly spoken in Japanese ( - with the most irritating English subtitles known to mankind) , - why they didn’t get Chiaki Kuriyama from Battle Royale and Pulp Fiction to play this part?  

Luis Guzman’s few minutes of screen time as an undercover agent are an utter waste: Even his divine spark can’t tip the scales. And someone really needed to bring John Lone’s performance as bourgeois Triad chief, Cheng, down to 11. Bless him; Jason Statham gives it everything he’s got; bringing his usual rough trade menace to his many action scenes (- he works hard here, folks) and keeps a straight face when aerating the face of an unfortunate bad guy with a point blank slug fired in full view of his FBI team. Statham’s attempts to lend some depth to Agent Crawford, whether mourning the passing of his partner in the midst of this gaudy Sturm und Drang, or making the best of tiresome buddy cop patter with his color-by-numbers team are simply not enough to make anything of this picture.  

This is director Philip Atwell’s first feature after helming videos for 50 Cent and Eminem. Unfortunately, so much of the quick cutting and bad pacing (- no action from Jet Li for nearly half the film!), reminds one of a music video, both seizure-inducing and boring all at once. He does have an eye for bombast and some sense of artistic vision. I won’t say Mr. Atwell is an awful director, but he’s clearly inexperienced. I just wish the powers that be had had better judgment than to pair the phemon named Jet Li, with someone who’s never made a feature film before. If I were Jet Li, and knew that American film companies held me and my decades of amazing work in such contempt, I’d look unhappy too.

 

~ Mighty Ganesha

August 25th, 2007

 

 

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(Courtesy of Lionsgate Pictures)