War! Hunh! Good God, y’all!
So on one hand you’ve got Jet Li, a well-known international action phenomenon, known mostly for playing silent steel-eyed kung fu heroes in movies like Hero and Fist of Legend. On the other hand you’ve got Jason Statham, a slightly newer face on the action movie scene, whose fame is rising thanks to his roles in high-octane thrill rides like The Transporter and Crank.
War takes both stars and puts them in the same movie (although not for the first time, Statham appeared in Li’s sci-fi blockbuster The One), and then pits them against each other. Yeah, seeing these two tough guys duke it out is exciting, but is there anything else to this movie worth watching?
When FBI Special Agent Jack Crawford (Statham) discovers his partner and his partner’s family has been killed by a mysterious hired killer known only as Rogue (Li), he spends the next three years exploring the seedy underworld of the Yakuza, hoping for revenge. When Rogue finally resurfaces, he’s sneakily manipulating San Francisco’s two most powerful Yakuza families into a war with one another. What is his plan? What is he after? And will he survive Crawford relentlessly hunting him down?
Fortunately, War is about more than just Statham and Li punching each other. There’s a real plot here, with a couple dozen bad guys to keep track of. Unfortunately, you’ve probably seen plots just like this in countless other crime flicks. There are two crime families, one sticking close to the old ways and the other ignoring tradition for the sake of profit. Just when this almost gets the point where it might have become somewhat interesting, the various crime bosses reveal themselves to be mere cannon fodder for Li and Statham. And yet, the two anti-heroes don’t have a lot of screen time together, so most of the movie involves them investigating, meeting with, or blowing away the Yakuzas. It’s a paradox—the movie has a ton of plot, and yet the plot ends up being kind of irrelevant.
At its basics, though, this movie is all about the action. Gunfights, swordfights, explosions, car chases, motorcycle chases, rooftop jumping, canine suicide bombers—it’s all here. The filmmakers say they wanted the action to be “grounded” and “realistic.” I’m not sure about that, especially with Cory Yuen doing the fight choreography, but at least the action comes at viewers fast and frenetic. My favorite set pieces are the ones with big gunplay, most notably the “tea room” shootout from about two-thirds of the way into the film. It’s also nice to see action that isn’t overly reliant on CGI, with the filmmakers instead trusting in their stunt performers for the big thrills.
Another fun part of the movie is how it plays up the differences between the two main characters. As expected, Jet Li is all sleek and stylish in this one. He’s dressed in black, with sunglasses to match, while driving a futuristic-looking sports car. He says very little, emerging from the shadows to dispatch his enemies quickly and silently. Statham, meanwhile, is the “blunt instrument” of the pair. He’s all about kicking down doors, roughing up witnesses, and doing whatever it takes—ethical or otherwise—to get his man. These differences in character are interesting, and they make up for stretches of exposition about Yakuza politics.
I was surprised to learn that this was the first feature for director Philip G. Atwell, who according to IMDb, has worked mostly in music videos and TV. This guy has tons of style, and he’s put together one seriously good-looking movie. He skillfully combines bright greens and reds with a darker, gritty environment. Some visual highlights include a fight scene inside some giant metal pipes, when the car chase goes slow motion at one point, and a Sergio Leone-inspired standoff with samurai swords instead of guns. I can definitely see Atwell becoming a household name in the future.
The picture quality on the War DVD is good, with dozens of “wow!” moments in the visuals throughout. The audio is also above-average, and it especially shines whenever the score kicks in. The music comes out of all the surrounds and fills the room in a near-perfect blend.
For extras, the action kicks off with three commentary tracks. The first, a solo track by Atwell, tends to be a little dry and slow-moving. He really should have asked someone to join him, or maybe had a huge cup of coffee before recording. The commentary with the screenwriters is a little more upbeat, with them discussing various script ideas that didn’t make it to screen, as well as their adoration for the movie’s two leads. The third is a “trivia commentary,” in which a female narrator recites a steady stream of information at viewers, including the histories of the two stars and even the history of Lionsgate in general. This track is peppered with interview clips from various cast and crew. It’s pretty much more than you could ever want to know about War.
This is one packed disc. The “Action of War” featurette takes all the major action scenes in the movie and breaks each one down into subcategories, such as “the story,” “the style,” “the sound,” and so on. It’s a fairly comprehensive look at just how challenging it is to make a big-budget action flick. Finishing things off are a shorter featurette about the score, some deleted scenes, a gag reel, and trailers for other Lionsgate DVDs. Overall, it’s an excellent collection of extras for one movie.
I’m not sure what to think of the huge plot twist in the final third of the movie. It’s either ludicrous, or it’s really, really, really ludicrous.
War is a super-stylish movie with a lot of gun-blazin’ action. The story, however, is somewhat disposable. But then, the DVD presentation is quite good. For action fans, I say make this one your next rental.