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

Black and White: The Dawn of Justice

For F*** Magazine


Director : Tsai Yueh-Hsun
Cast : Mark Chao, Lin Geng-Xin, Huang Bo, Chang Chun-Ning, Zha Na, Terri Kwan, Christopher Lee
Genre : Action/Thriller
Opens : 9 October 2014
Rating : PG13 (Violence)
Run time: 126 mins

This reviewer is fighting with every fibre of his being not to make a Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice joke. This reviewer has failed. In this Taiwanese action flick, our super team is not that of Bruce Wayne and Clark Kent, but of Harbour City cops Wu Ying-xiong (Chao) and Chen Zhen (Gengzin). Following his rescue of a hijacked plane in the first film The Dawn of Assault, Wu Ying-xiong has become the poster child for the Harbour City police. His new partner Chen Zhen doesn’t think quite as highly of him as everyone else does, but they have to put their heads together to foil a massive threat to Harbour City. The Nightwalkers, a highly-trained and well-equipped terrorist organisation, have captured wanted criminals and in a sick form of vigilante justice, have unleashed them upon the city as suicide bombers. The Nightwalkers steal an EMP rocket and in addition to killing all power to the city, are bent on releasing the lethal Irukanji virus into the air. With the government’s black-ops team the Black Hawks crippled, the two cops must go it alone to save Harbour City from destruction.

            Black and White: The Dawn of Justice is the second film based on the 2009 TV series Black and White, also starring Mark Chao as Wu Ying-xiong. This is a franchise where the hero’s name literally translates to “hero”. The Dawn of Justiceis a bombastic, over-the-top action spectacular that is deeply silly but is somehow all the more enjoyable for it. Right out the gate, we get an action sequence in which the baddies jump their motorcycles out of a truck, backflip off said motorcycles onto the roof of an official government vehicle carrying the defence department’s top brass, use a plasma cutter to break into the vehicle and receive air support in the form of a henchwoman in a black leather skirt, firing a mini-gun mounted on a stealth helicopter straight out of GI Joe. Now, this isn’t exactly “so bad it’s good”, but it’s on that spectrum. As of late, we’ve seen Asian films that try to emulate the post-Bournegrittiness of Hollywood actioners to limited success. In this movie, any semblance of realism is tossed out the window with wild abandon and that’s far from a bad thing.

            Tsai Yueh-Hsun, who worked on the Black and White series among other TV shows and made his feature film debut with The Dawn of Assault, deserves applause for this ambitious undertaking. The action is almost wall-to-wall, the film only sagging slightly during its third act before the climax. There’s a great mix of crazy, gigantic fireball-fuelled set pieces and intense hand-to-hand combat sequences. The visual effects work is far from wholly convincing, particularly the afore-mentioned computer generated helicopter. However, the effort taken to create a high-octane extravaganza akin to Hollywood productions but on a fraction of the budget is evident. Stunt coordinator and second unit director Jack Gill has worked on Fast Five and fight designer Ron Yuan’s credits include 24 and Prison Break; their expertise helping Tsai realise his vision. This reviewer was giddy with childlike excitement when the Chen Zhen character leapt onto an attack drone, wrestling with it in mid-air while forcibly turning its guns on the bad guys.

            Of course, it is impossible to take any of this even remotely seriously. Whatever pathos Tsai was aiming for is undercut by the goofiness of the stock villainous scheme. Lam Xi-en, the leader of the Nightwalkers, is shaggy-haired, wears aviator shades, is covered in tattoos and speaks in a low, gravelly growl.  He’s on a mission to “cleanse the city of its sins” and he actually delivers a speech beginning with “You think I’m a bad guy. I’m not. I’m God.” Of course, there’s a faux-shocking revelation regarding his true identity.

However, there is a good deal of intentional humour in the film as well and the buddy cop pairing of Mark Chao’s Ying-xiong and Ling Gengzin’s Chen Zhen carries the film. Yes, their “bickering old married couple” dynamic is not new to the genre, but it did remind this reviewer of Riggs and Murtagh from the Lethal Weapon movies – this is high praise. Reprising his role of Huang Shi-kai from the series, Shiou Jieh Kai is slightly more of a heartthrob than the two leads. Returning from The Dawn of Assault, Huang Bo is equal parts sympathetic and tragicomic as Xu Dafu, the misunderstood criminal who ended up helping Ying-xiong in the last film. Singaporeans should get a kick out of seeing local star Christopher Lee in a supporting role as Harbour City’s defence department chief. Unfortunately, the female members of the cast, including ostensible leading lady Ning Chang, get side-lined.

            In the midst of all that fun, this reviewer did cringe hard at the questionable imagery of downed airliners crashing into a populated city and skyscrapers collapsing. Action movies are meant to have large-scale destruction but this is particularly poor taste, guys.

That aside, Black and White: The Dawn of Justice is gleefully ludicrous in its presentation of action movie hijinks. Once you view it as a heightened, comic book-y, cheesy action romp, you’re probably gonna have a good time with it. This is the kind of earnest, overblown popcorn entertainment that doesn’t take itself too seriously but is not obnoxious self-parody either, something action junkies haven’t gotten often enough from major Hollywood studios as of late.
Summary: If you’re in the mood for unabashedly silly, not particularly polished but lavish, entertaining action, hop in the cop car with Wu Ying-xiong and Chen Zhen.
RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong