Director Roel Reine’s latest return to martial arts and fantasy with Netflix’s Fistful Of Vengeance does a fine job of maintaining the same energy and flair of its preceding Wu Assassins series, and overall delivers largely on what fans can expect from a film headlined by Iko Uwais, an action star who broke ground more than ten years ago with some of the most elevated action cinema ever shot on camera.
Reine continues a lot of that fanfare here, though lacking the same effect as its predecessors, but still bearing some fruit along the way. It’s a film that furthers along Uwais’ career into English-speaking territories for audiences as we approach his next appearance among the cadre of Hollywood action stars to be seen in the next Expendables film, and not for nothing either, but also a huge improvement in feature output for co-star Lewis Tan who reprises his role from the series, doing him far more justice in many aspects compared to last year’s Mortal Kombat.
Pitting Uwais and Tan together once again brings the next chapter of the Wu Assassins saga with Fistful Of Vengeance, which immediately places our heroes, respectively named Kai and Lu Xin, in the thick of things in Thailand as they, along with Lawrence Kao’s Tommy, set out on a dead-or-alive mission to bring justice to whoever killed Tommy’s sister, Jenny (previously played by Li Jun Li in the series) – her faceless body otherwise shown in flashbacks with Tommy grieving.
After a scrimmage in a nightclub, the trio are then summoned by the rich and influential William Pan (Jason Tobin of Warrior) who enlists their help to bring an end to the supposedly evil deeds of the similarly-gifted Ku An Qi (Yayaying Ratha Phongam of Tom Yum Goong 2). Whether or not this will tie all ends as they work to avenge Jenny’s death remains to be seen, but when teaming up with Tommy’s streetwise pastime girlfriend, Preeya (Francesca Corney) and Xin’s old flame, undercover agent Adaku (Pearl Thusi), Kai finds himself faced with the increasing burden of choosing to either stay with his less-imbued friends, or fly solo and face an enemy far more powerful than he’s ever faced.
I do have a few nitpicks, but the one thing I do want to point out is the film’s incessant use of hip-hop blasting as the fights kick-off. I’m not deaf to the generational and cultural colloquialism and connection between hip-hop and kung fu cinema, but there’s definitely an infringing factor in using too much of what works at only certain moments. Beyond that, you’re not robbed of anything that the film offers during the course of its runtime – everyone gets their time to shine in this series, including and especially Tommy who proves himself far more useful and evolved both in character and physicality, as well as actresses Corney and Thusi, the latter who you can certainly catch more of in Netflix’s Queen Sono when you can get around to it. The return of actress and martial artist Juju Chan Szeto is a plus as well, reprising her role as Zan in several key moments opposite Uwais.
Fistful Of Vengeance doesn’t necessarily hold a candle to what Uwais has done in the past (i.e. The Raid films, Headshot and The Night Comes For Us). It does try to leave a few marks there for fans, however, with just a few major scenes of walk-in gore, and the scenes involving bladed weapons are feasible enough for R-rated martial arts fans to get a kick out of. Moreover, I was thrilled to finally catch just what it was the cast teased last year when they showcased fight scene rehearsal using a certain camera setup. The shot finally appears in the final ten minutes, and to say the least, it was worth the wait.
There’s also a touch of sex scenery between Tan and Thusi, and a moment of intimacy between Kao and Corney, and enough ample shirtless eye candy with Uwais and Tan for those of you who are into that sort of thing.
As far as the saga itself goes, the casting of actor Sahajak Boonthanakit was a nice little addition to the franchise, further expanding the Wu Assassins story a little more beyond the show’s initial San Francisco confines. It also helps that the show hasn’t exactly closed the book on where it could go next as this latest Netflix offering makes landfall this week, and for that matter. I didn’t love it, but I certainly enjoyed it. Would I watch it again? Probably.
Watch Fistful Of Vengeance on Netflix.