First off, and most importantly, I enjoyed this film. Donnie Yen isn’t Tsui Hark, but he is a director with some creativity, a desire to experiment and a nice (if sometimes overwrought) visual style. The film itself is for the most part fast-paced, has a relatively engaging story (more on that later) and is packed full of top-notch action scenes. Not a classic, but certainly a solid first time cinematic effort. With a little more cash, a better script (again, more on that later) and a little less "art" Yen Ji-Dan could become a director to be reckoned with.
One thing he needs no help with is his handling of the almighty action sequence. Considering his cinematic heritage and his credits (both official and under the table) as an Action Director/ Choreographer, it’ll probably come as no surprise that he’s already at the top of his game in that department. There’s a wildness and brutality to the fight scenes that works wonderfully and there’s a sequence near the end that is nothing short of phenomenal. It’s a foot chase/ brawl (Yen v. "the World") through a forest and it was so good I immediately hit the rewind button in order to run through it again. After a bit of ruminating on the subject I realized that the closest comparison I could find would be to the speed and energy of Anime fight scene. Quite an accomplishment for live action.
Well, since the good stuff is out of the way, let’s tackle a few of the problems with this film. First and foremost, the structure of this movie was, at times, infuriating. The main gripe for me was the totally useless, distracting and unnecessarily "philosophic" framing sequence. Basically there’s a young hit man trying to off the modern day version of Yen’s character, the titular "Wolf." He arrives at the Wolf’s headquarters under false pretenses and then sits down with his second-in-command to hear the Wolf’s life story while waiting for his quarry to wake up from a nap. Why? Because they’re on to him and want to dissuade the young killer from following through with his task. How this was supposed to stop the guy I don’t know. I suspect they were trying to bore him to death as the scenes in question are almost perfectly lifeless in comparison to rest of the movie. Think dark, moody, smoky and low on useful content and you’ve got a pretty good picture of what was going on.
To be honest, this whole bit could’ve been chopped off. Instead of adding to the film it really detracts from the far superior main story and forces the heart of the film to be shot in flashback which, in this case, seemed like a perfect waste of time. As an added bonus, since everything is a flashback, there are actually a few flashbacks-within- a- flashback. It’s a pet peeve, but I hate that. It works if you’re Seijun Suzuki and are consciously trying to fuck with the audience, but otherwise it’s just a mess.
Other than that big one, I have very few complaints. Some of the dialogue is a little off (think standard kung fu movie dialogue wrapped in an angst flavored candy coating) and some of the minor characters are less-than-stellar actors, but all-in-all the rest of the film holds together pretty well. Certainly one to check out.
This article was first published on DrunkenFist.com in1999 (I think.)