Review: War

Stateside triad takes on Yakuza boss, with the feds after both. Dark, moody thriller with satisfying fight scenes.

Add War to the list of solid B-movies that will fare better on DVD than in theaters. The film lacks the glitz and fire of bigger budget movies, but delivers enough action and drama for hardcore fans. Dark in tone and almost devoid of humor, it proves that a serious, workmanlike effort can still pay off.

The films opens with the aftermath of a gunfight on a San Francisco pier. FBI agents John Crawford (Jason Statham) and Tom Lone (Terry Chen) search the flaming debris for Rogue, a hit man who changes his look with plastic surgery after every assignment. Crawford is wounded as Rogue escapes, but Lone pays the real price: his house is burned, killing his wife and child.

Three years later, Crawford finds clues that Rogue might be working again. He suspects Victor Shaw (Jet Li), who has switched allegiance from Yakuza boss Shiro (Ryo Ishibashi) to fallen triad leader Chang (John Lone). After losing most of his fortune to Shiro, Chang has been hiding out in San Francisco. Shiro’s daughter Kira (Devon Aoki) is overseeing the eventual sale of two antique gold horses, the last items in Chang’s former estate. He will stop at nothing to retrieve them.

Crawford applies pressure to both triad and Yakuza members, endangering himself and his men to capture Rogue. Shaw does the same thing, pitting one side against the other as bodies pile up. Crawford will eventually confront Shaw, but not until twists that affect everyone involved.

The script by Lee Anthony Smith and Gregory J. Bradley tweaks the images of its stars, presenting the normally upright Jet Lit as a stone-cold killer, and the reserved Jason Statham as a hot-headed lawman. The escalating gang war, with its echoes of Dashiell Hammett’s Red Harvest, is a sturdy narrative engine, and the villains are effective, if one-dimensional. The story might be a rehash of familiar martial arts and crime film themes, but the authors treat them with more respect and ingenuity than expected.

Philip G. Atwell, making his feature debut after music videos and second unit work, adopts a tough, aggressive style that suits the material perfectly. Working with a limited budget, he has been forced to rein in the film’s big set pieces and special effects. There are fewer action scenes than fans might like, but the crew here knows how to make the most of what’s available. Action choreographer Cory Yuen, an old hand with Li and Statham, works up one strong fight for each star before their final showdown together (which feels a bit abrupt).

Defiantly old school, War avoids the curdled irony and machine-gun editing that mark much of the action scene today. Li may have lost some range since his film debut twenty-five years ago, but he still moves with the grace of a dancer. Statham proves a good foil, adding to his repertoire of driven characters. They are the main reason why the no-frills War succeeds as well as it does.

Cast: Jet Li, Jason Statham, John Lone, Devon Aoki, Luis Guzman, Saul Rubinek, Ryo Ishibashi, Sung Kang, Mathew St. Patrick, Nadine Velazquez, Andrea Roth, Mark Cheng, Kane Kosugi, Kennedy Lauren Montano, Terry Chen, Steph Song, Annika Foo.

Credits: Directed by Philip G. Atwell. Written by Lee Anthony Smith & Gregory J. Bradley. Produced by Steven Chasman, Christopher Petzel, Jim Thompson. Executive producers: Mike Elliott, Michael Paseornek, Peter Block, John Sacchi. Directory of photography: Pierre Morel. Production designer: Chris August. Editor: Scott Richter. Costume designer: Cynthia Ann Summers. Music by Brian Tyler. Sound: Michael Williamson. Martial arts choreographer: Cory Yuen. Stunt coordinator: Scott Nicholson. Special effects coordinator: Clayton Seheirer. Co-producers: Joseph P. Genier, Stephanie Denton. A Lionsgate presentation of a Lionsgate, Mosaic Media Group, and Fierce Entertainment production. In English, Japanese, and Mandarin with English subtitles.

Lionsgate/Color/2.25/Dolby Digital, DTS & SDDS/103 Mins./Rated R

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