Going by a number of comments online, it would seem that many people don’t realize that Netflix’s latest action movie Fistful of Vengeance is actually a sequel to their earlier series Wu Assassins (2019).
While it isn’t imperative to have seen the series to enjoy the film, it does fill in a good deal of back story. This would perhaps explain the lack of character building to those online complaining, as there has already been ten episodes previously to explain who everyone is. Even then, for those who can’t be bothered going back and watching the series, there is enough exposition in the opening five minutes to bring you up to speed.
Carrying on merely weeks where Wu Assassins left off, Fistful of Vengeance opens with Wu Assassin Kai (Iko Uwais), Lu Xin (Lewis Tan) and Tommy (Lawrence Kao) traveling to Bangkok to track down the murderers of Tommy’s sister Jenny. Upon arrival they are approached by mysterious billionaire William Pan (Jason Tobin) who informs them that Jenny’s death was at the hands of his sister Ku An Qi (Rhatha Phongam).
Pan explains that he and his sister are descendants of Pangu, a powerful being who is believed to have created the universe. Pangu was driven mad by power and defeated by the first Wu Assassin. The essence of Pangu is now contained in two Talisman which are held by Kai and Tommy. In her hunt for these talisman Ku killed Jenny. In order to create balance, Pan needs Kai, Lu Xin and Tommy’s help in kidnapping Ku before she is able to raise Pangu from the dead.
While the kidnapping doesn’t exactly go to plan, our heroes are aided by Interpol agent Zama Zulu (Pearl Thusi). Zulu shares some history with Lu Xin which causes some tension but they will have to work together if they are to survive.
However, Zama isn’t the only one offering her help as Tommy is able to bring in his friend Preeya (Francesca Corney) who seems to know about everything happening in Bangkok.
With it not being clear who to trust, our heroes will have to race against the clock in order to stop Ku from raising Pangu and destroying the world as we know it.
It wasn’t exactly clear after the first season of Wu Assassins if there would be a second. Personally I enjoyed the show and while it did have some issues, I felt that it was a winning mixture of fantasy and martial arts. Although I would have preferred a second season, beggars can’t be choosers, with a follow up film at least allowing the filmmakers to tie up some loose ends and continue with the story of the Wu Assassin.
Feeling more like an extended episode than a bonafide feature film, Fistful of Vengeance shares a number of the same issues as the preceding television series, but the mixture of action, stunning locations and beautiful woman (or men if that’s your thing) still make Fistful of Vengeance a worthwhile experience.
Having DTV specialist Roel Reine at the helm helps the production considerably. Having previously directed episodes of Wu Assassins he seems like an obvious choice. Similar to his DTV actioners, Reine makes Fistful of Vengeance look as if it costs a lot more than it did.
As he regularly does, Reine also serves as his own director of photography, incorporating some striking visuals into the action. On occasion he does over extend his reach but at least he manages to keep things interesting. The Thailand locations also add to the overall production values, with Reine’s visuals showing off the famous landmarks at their best. In some respects the film almost works as a travelogue.
Reine has a good handle on the action, with the best being an extended fight scene/shootout/car chase during the middle section of the film. During this the action gets surprisingly violent, with a stairway fight involving Uwais and an axe being particularly bloody.
Now those expecting The Raid (2011) levels of fight choreography due to the involvement of Uwais will be sadly disappointed. While the action is of a good quality, it isn’t altogether perfect. My one real gripe with it is that there is an inconsistency in quality. As great as some of the action is, it can feel overly choreographed at points, especially when non-martial artists are carrying out the moves.
Also, typically for a martial arts film, I normally expect the finale to include the film’s best fight scene, but this isn’t the case with Fistful of Vengeance. It isn’t that the fights here are especially poor, with Uwais, Tan and Chan-Szeto all getting to show their moves, but they pale in comparison to what has come before. This is especially true regarding the final fight with the main villain (who I won’t spoil here, even if it is somewhat obvious). Considering our heroes are fighting an all powerful God, it seemed to be over in minutes which was disappointing.
Another detraction from the action, and this may represent all viewers, but the choice of music during the action is atrocious. Maybe I have just become that “old guy”, but the music during the majority of the film is terrible. The score by Toby Chu only goes in some way to compensate for it.
The majority of the main cast from Wu Assassins return, although the absence of some is certainly felt. Iko Uwais continues to be front and center and never fails to entertain. Fistful of Vengeance may not be the best showcase of Uwais talents, especially in comparison to his action classics like The Raid and The Night Comes for Us (2018), but when put alongside his disappointing roles in Stuber (2019) and Snake Eyes (2021) it can’t be seen as anything but an improvement. Even with the overly choreographed action Uwais still proves to be a badass.
If anything, Lewis Tan actually fares better here. He is certainly much better utilized here than he was in last year’s Mortal Kombat (2021). He gets to show off his own considerable martial arts skills on numerous occasions as well as becoming something of a romantic lead when he teams up with the stunning Pearl Thusi.
Most surprisingly was the fact that Lawrence Kao’s Tommy was no longer the annoying liability we witnessed in Wu Assassins. Playing a much more determined character this time around, the actual vengeance of the title mostly belongs to him as he is out to avenge the murder of his sister. Kao does get involved in a good share of the action. Although it’s clear that Kao is no martial artist, his background as a dancer certainly plays a part in him appearing more flexible on screen. Certainly more so than his co-star Francesca Corney, whose moves all feel painfully telegraphed.
Another returning face from the television show is JuJu Chan Szeto. She doesn’t get as many scenes as I would have liked but she certainly puts Uwais through his paces in the two fight scenes they have and is a more threatening opponent than who ultimately turns out to be the main villain.
The absence of a number of the series regulars is felt. Kathryn Winnick was one of the best things about the series and it would have been nice to see her return to kick ass. The same is true of the awesome Byron Mann, who pretty much stole the original show from his co-stars. His absence wasn’t as surprising as Winnick’s due to what happens in the show.
At least there are some new additions that make up for them. Pearl Thusi’s Zama Zuli is certainly appreciated, with her tough take no shit attitude being welcome. I also appreciated her aversion to wearing clothes. Would an Interpol agent really show up to her work wearing just a bra with a jacket over it. Not that I’m complaining, and considering all the other crazy goings on during the film I am more than willing to have a sense of disbelief.
Jason Tobin of Warrior (2019) fame makes a welcome appearance even if he is mostly wasted as the mysterious William Pan. I was expecting him to show off the same martial arts skills he shows in Warrior but sadly this wasn’t to be.
From an acting perspective, newcomer Francesca Corney does well enough, with her character being conflicted after she is promised the return of her family. As mentioned her action skills are somewhat lacking although these may improve after time.
Fistful of Vengeance wasn’t the full blown success I was hoping for, but in comparison to some recent bigger budget movies it has enough action and style of its own to compete alongside them. It isn’t clear if there will be another film down the line even if the ending certainly leaves things open for that possibility.
I don’t think Uwais has to worry if a sequel is on the horizon as he already has The Expendables 4 (2022) due this year. With him on villain duties it is unclear what action he will have but I think it is safe to say he will be putting the Expendables through their paces.
Lewis Tan also has a busy schedule, with him appearing in the second season of fantasy series Shadow and Bone (2021) as well as co-starring alongside Emma Roberts in the romantic comedy About Fate (2022). Additionally there is the possibility that he could return in the announced sequel to Mortal Kombat although this hasn’t been confirmed. Let’s hope if he does appear that he is given more to do than the first film.
Plot: 3.2/5 Acting: 3.5/5 Action: 3.8/5 Overall: 3.5/5