Film Review: ‘Fistful Of Vengance’

by Ben Martin

I love a good martial arts flick. But I’m admittedly partial to the genre’s efforts in the 1970s, whereas I’m a little more selective when it comes to modern martial arts movies. Well, that is with two exceptions — Gareth EvansThe Raid: Redemption (Original title: Serbuan maut) (2011) and its sequel, The Raid 2: Berandal (Original title: Serbuan maut 2: Berandal) (2014). I consider these films to be the best contemporary examples of their genre. Heck, those two movies are a couple of the best martial arts films ever made. One aspect of The Raid duology that I loved is their lead actor and martial artist, Iko Uwais. While Uwais could never be classified as a world-class thespian, he’s a master of martial arts who’s captivating to see on-screen. So much so that if Uwais is headlining an action or martial arts picture, I’m much more likely to check it out.

Uwais’ latest offering is the Netflix Original, Fistful of Vengeance. Now, before I go any further, I must bow my head in shame and admit to being a bit ignorant of this movie’s origins. In advance of watching this film, something struck me as vaguely familiar about it, particularly when it was initially set to be released under the title Wu Assassins: Fistful of Vengeance. Alas, I could never pin down why that seemed familiar. Well, it turns out that this flick is a sequel to the 2019 limited series, Wu Assassins, which I’ve admittedly never seen. Thankfully, though, the filmmakers behind the movie in review are looking to attract the largest audience possible. In other words, the movie will work for fans of the preceding TV series or newcomers alike.

Fistful Of Vengeance drops us right into the action as we find a trifecta of assassins on the road to revenge. Their mission soon gets side-tracked, however, when the trio of Kai Jin (Uwais), Tommy Wah (Lawrence Kao), and Lu Xin Lee (Lewis Tan) get drawn into a quest with much more at stake. Yup, you guessed it, the fate of the world hangs in the balance. Now, our heroes must now stop the Chinese Triad from obtaining an object that will bestow them with mystical abilities. As if that’s not enough, a pair of estranged twins with elevated mental and physical abilities, respectively, are trying to place both sides for the key to power!

We’ve seen this story a billion times over. In some ways, Fistful Of Vengeance is like a cross between R-rated versions of Big Trouble in Little China (1986) and Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021) . Sounds like a pretty solid combination, yeah?

Well, it would be if it were not for this film’s overall execution — which makes Fistful Of Vengeance feel more narratively and stylistically akin to a syndicated TV series of the 1990s on USA Network or Syfy (Sci-Fi Network at that point in time.) That is to say, if there’s not an action-packed spectacle unfolding, the production seems quite dull and cheaply made despite that Netflix sheen which all of the platform’s original releases seem to have. However, it should be noted that the film is still competently made by director Roel Reiné, who has helped more than his fair share of direct-to-video movies and television in the action genre.

Perhaps Reiné’s experience in the action field helps give this movie its one true standout quality from a technical standpoint. I’m of course referring to the film’s fight choreography, which, as you might expect, is very impressive. Alas, much of these martial arts setpieces are again undercut by their execution. All of these sequences are cut like music videos and underscored by propulsive rap beats. Now, while I’m sure plenty of folks will dig this approach, it simply diluted the action for me.

Ultimately, the most substantial aspect of this film is the chemistry between its three leads. But, overall, Fistful Of Vengeance felt a little too mystical for my taste when combined with martial arts. Don’t get me wrong, Shang-Chi mixes such elements quite well, but this flick fails to do so in my estimation. This film will probably please fans of the TV series that preceded it or those who want to see fight sequences backed by an Eminem track. For me, though, Fistful Of Vengeance is a mediocre and moderately entertaining by-the-numbers martial arts flick.

Fistful Of Vengeance is now streaming exclusively on Netflix.

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