The Warrior’s Gate (勇士之门)

For F*** Magazine


Director : Matthias Hoene
Cast : Uriah Shelton, Mark Chao, Ni Ni, Dave Bautista, Henry Mah, Francis Ng, Sienna Guillory, Kara Wai
Genre : Action/Adventure
Run Time : 1h 47min
Opens : 8 December 2016
Rating : PG (Some Violence)

the-warriors-gate-posterAn ancient Chinese kingdom is under threat, and only one person can save the land: an American teen gamer from the year 2015. Jack Bronson (Shelton) spends most of his time engrossed in an online game, taking on the persona of a fearsome warrior called the Black Knight. His single mother Annie (Guillory) is struggling to make ends meet, and their house will soon be foreclosed on. Jack works part-time for antiques dealer Mr. Chang (Mah), who entrusts Jack with a priceless chest. One night, the warrior Zhao (Chao) and Princess Sulin (Ni) emerge from the chest through a portal called ‘the Warrior’s Gate’ into Jack’s bedroom. Zhao gives Jack the mission of protecting the princess. When Sulin is abducted by barbarians, Jack leaps into the chest after her, and is transported to ancient China. Standing alongside Zhao and with the help of the wizard Wu (Ng), Jack must rescue Sulin from the clutches of the ruthless Barbarian king Arun the Cruel (Bautista).


The Warrior’s Gate is a co-production between France’s EuropaCorp and China’s Fundamental Films. EuropaCorp’s head honcho Luc Besson produced the film and co-wrote the screenplay with long-time collaborator Robert Mark Kamen. The Warrior’s Gate comes off as an extremely tired enterprise. It’s a bog-standard coming-of-age hero’s journey story, combined with fish out of water hijinks. It also feels horribly dated, as if the filmmakers are scrambling about wondering “this is what kids these days like, isn’t it?” The production notes refer to The Warrior’s Gate as “an action-packed adventure film with martial arts derring-do, seen through the eyes of a Gen Z video gamer and set to a hip-hop breakdance beat.” Excuse us while we roll our eyes. There’s a BMX bike chase scene straight out of the 90s and our hero has a rotund, bespectacled best friend who says “bro” a lot.


Thankfully, The Warrior’s Gate doesn’t take itself too seriously at all, and several jokes land. It does, however, play the Mary Sue (or Marty Stu) trope painfully straight. A meek teenager who is habitually bullied is suddenly thrust into the middle of a grand adventure where he must beat the bad guys and save the girl despite lacking skills and being unfamiliar with the world. The similarities between The Warrior’s Gate and 2009’s The Forbidden Kingdom are inescapable. In that film, it was a martial arts movie geek rather than a gamer who was pulled through a portal into ancient China, but most of the story beats are the same. The Forbidden Kingdom boasted Jackie Chan and Jet Li going toe-to-toe on the big screen for the first time, in fights that were choreographed by Yuen Woo-Ping. The Warrior’s Gate has nothing close to that.


Shelton, whom teen audiences might recognise from the Disney Channel sitcom Girl Meets World, play the designated white saviour. Somehow, an entire contingent of royal guards who have been trained since birth aren’t good enough to defend the kingdom: we need a modern-day millennial for that. Jack is meant to be a shut-in who gets lost in his video games, but his BMX skills are on par with a professional stunt rider and when we see Jack with his shirt off, dude’s got abs. It’s the kind of role Shia LaBeouf would’ve gotten 15 years ago, and Shelton is frequently just about as annoying.


Taiwanese-Canadian actor Chao, who starred in the TV series Black and White and its big-screen spin-off, does the stoic action hero thing well enough. You know the drill: Zhao thinks little of Jack, but the two eventually bond and learn from each other. Zhao teaches Jack martial arts and discipline; Jack teaches Zhao to loosen up a little. Ni Ni’s Sulin is the spoiled, feisty princess who spends the bulk of the film in captivity. Mah’s Mr. Chang is yet another ersatz Mr. Miyagi – the presence of that hoary archetype is to be expected, given that Kamen wrote the Karate Kid screenplay. As Mr. Chang’s magical ancient Chinese counterpart, Ng is the playful sorcerer with a twinkle in his eye. He sounds like James Hong as Mr. Ping in the Kung Fu Panda films to a distracting degree.


Bautista is a bright spot here. He’s having great fun playing the villainous Arun, who appears to be a riff on Khal Drogo from Game of Thrones. He even gets a dim-witted henchman named Brutus. Thanks to his sheer physical presence and comic timing, Bautista comes off as both funny and imposing. Fans of Hong Kong cinema will enjoy the cameo from Kara Wai, who makes a brief appearance as a mountain witch.


While the sub-par visual effects work is most evident during a fight against a trio of tree monsters, the production values benefit from location filming in China. It’s obvious that Besson is attempting to jump on the Chinese film industry bandwagon, because that’s where all the money is now. The Warrior’s Gate is formulaic and limp, a clear demonstrate of how out-of-touch its filmmakers are.

Summary: American teenager is transported to ancient China, saves the day, story goes just how you’d expect. Keep this gate closed.

RATING: 2 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Line Walker (使徒行者)

For F*** Magazine


Director: Jazz Boon
Cast : Nick Cheung, Louis Koo, Charmaine Sheh, Francis Ng, Benz Hui, Li Guangjie, Zhang Huiwen, Jade Leung
Genre : Action/Thriller
Run Time : 1 hr 48 mins
Opens : 11 August 2016
Rating : PG13 (Violence)

Line Walker poster“I keep my eyes wide open all the time” – so sang Johnny Cash in I Walk the Line. In  this crime thriller, undercover cops embedded deep within organised crime networks have to watch their backs, lest said backs get stabbed. Undercover agent Ding Jie (Sheh) receives an encrypted text message from a mysterious figure known only as ‘Blackjack’, who claims to be an undercover agent who is out in the cold after the death of his handler. Ding’s superior at the Criminal Intelligence Bureau (CIB), Q (Ng), launches a search for Blackjack. Q discovers that a financial firm is involved in a drug deal in Brazil, narrowing down the true identity of Blackjack to the firm’s advisor Lam (Cheung) or his right-hand man Shiu (Koo). Both are working with Foon-hei (Hui), a triad boss previously thought dead. When the triads catch wind of a possible mole in the ranks, suspicion and betrayal threaten to throw the crucial drug deal into chaos.

Line Walker Nick Cheung and Louis Koo 2

Line Walker is a continuation of the hit TVB action drama series of the same name. Of the show’s main cast, only Sheh and Hui return, with Raymond Lam notably absent. Lam, who played Bao Seed in the series, reportedly turned down an offer to star in the movie, much to the disappointment of fans. Ideally, a big screen spin-off of a TV show should stand well enough on its own while tossing out tidbits and Easter Eggs for loyal fans. Unfortunately, Line Walker starts out confusing and only ties itself in increasingly complicated knots. The double crosses and red herrings are stacked haphazardly in a pile, such that by the time the conclusion rolls around, the story resembles a wobbly Jenga tower. Yes, it’s perfectly reasonable to expect a few twists and turns in a crime thriller, but the number of times Line Walker announces “but wait, there’s more!” is nigh absurd, and more tiresome than actually dramatic.

Line Walker Nick Cheung and Louis Koo

One can tell that considerable resources have been sunk into Line Walker, and it’s quite the lavish production: in addition to shooting in Hong Kong, parts of the movie were filmed at Macau’s new Studio City resort and in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The action sequences, choreographed by Chin Ka-lok, are brutal and relatively elaborate, with quite a bit of blood being drawn during the fights. It’s a shame that these flourishes come off as bells and whistles instead of actually enriching the story.

Line Walker also suffers from serious tonal issues: Sheh’s first scene, in which she’s astride a motorcycle being pursued by bad guys also on bikes, is packed with slapstick. Later, while exiting a car in an evening gown, her dress gets caught in the door. Elsewhere in the movie, there are overwrought confrontations and tearful dying confessions. A villain even slits another character’s throat, and gouges out someone else’s eyes. Thankfully, we’re spared from seeing that grisliness in all their graphic detail, but the effect is still pretty jarring.

Line Walker Charmaine Sheh and Francis Ng

Sheh may have gained a great amount of popularity from her role as Ding Jie in the Line Walker series, but all of the pouty, whiny cutesiness she exhibits feels patently out of place in what’s supposed to be an intense, explosive thriller. Cheung and Koo play off each other well enough, but both performers seem like they’re trying to out-cool the other, to the point where all their posturing being pretty silly. A major revelation with regards to Hui’s character was delivered in the show’s final episode – in which Foon-hei also supposedly bit the dust. The explanation for his return amounts to little more than, if you’ll excuse the pun, a cop-out. The fresh-faced Zhang Huiwen, star of Zhang Yimou’s Coming Home, is unconvincing as Lam’s badass bodyguard.

Line Walker Benz Hui

Line Walker is at once overblown and undercooked, packed with big-budget sound and fury but pointlessly frustrating instead of riveting. Director Jazz Poon is unable to keep the story from spiralling into a tangled mess, which is likely to alienate fans of the TV show and newcomers alike.

Summary: Line Walker substitutes nuanced underworld intrigue with often laughable bombast and plot twists that will make your head spin but won’t blow your mind.

RATING: 2 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong