Apr 4, 2020

Martial Arts Month: Day 4

Red Wolf
Dir: Yuen Woo-Ping
Some movies come and go, some create a few ripples and a tiny handful manage to catch lightning in a bottle and become part of what defines a genre. Die Hard did that for action films. For years afterwards we got Die Hard rip offs, one of the most fun being Andrew Davis’ Steven Seagal starring Under Siege. Three years after Under Siege, Yuen Woo-Ping came along and made this, a hilariously slavish homage to/ripoff of both it and its most obvious influence.

Kenny Ho stars as Alan, an ex-cop, now a security guard on a cruise ship which is taken over by a mutinous first mate (Collin Chou) and a gang of mercenaries (some of whom are in the band on the ship) in order to steal some uranium which is on board for… some reason(?) Ho ends up teaming up with a waitress (Christy Chung) to save the ship.

This is a dumb movie. The story is loosely strung together from the basic elements of Under Siege and Die Hard (note a scene in which Alan is locked in a freezer and escapes in the same way as McClane does in a key scene in Die Hard) and much of the acting is poor; Ho is a bland hero and Christy Chung overplays just about every moment. All that said, this is also an insanely fun movie. It’s stupid and a bit rickety, but it also delivers in a lot of ways. Chou and Elaine Lui are great as the bad guys with Lui stealing the show; her performance as the glamorous singer who reveals herself as a gleefully smirking villain a study in being just over the top enough.

Given that this was made before The Matrix, and not a wuxia film, Yuen Woo-Ping’s action is much lighter on the use of wires. He gives everybody their moment in the plentiful fight sequences. Ho and Chou’s high kicking showdown is built up well and ends up being a hugely entertaining final setpiece, but the contrasting styles of Lui (all sharp movements) and Chung (an untrained fighter chaotically trying to stay alive) and a jaw dropping climactic fire stunt make their fight the film’s best scene. The action balances gunplay and martial arts well, finding plenty of reasonably natural excuses to put the firearms away and move to hand to hand fights. The action is brutal and the hits often clearly real. As much as Under Siege is clearly the better film overall, the action here is miles ahead.

Red Wolf is turn your brain off fare. It offers no profound insights into the philosophy of martial arts, its action sequences don’t revinvent the wheel and the story is shamelessly derivative. It is, however, a tremendous 88 minutes of entertainment.

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