While there are still many quality action movies being made in China, not all are afforded Western releases. Even those that are usually end up either going straight to streaming or to BluRay/DVD. With this in mind, I was ecstatic when it was announced that Cine-Asia would be releasing Twilight of the Warriors: Walled In to UK cinemas.

To say that this was one of my most anticipated action films of the year would be an understatement. Not only does it star a roster of Hong Kong cinema legends, it is directed by Soi Cheang who helmed one of my favorite films of the past few years, Limbo (2021). Even outside of Limbo, with the likes of Dog Bite Dog (2006), Motorway (2012) and the more recent Mad Fate (2023) under his belt, my interest would have been piqued.

Twilight of the Warriors is a more mainstream outing for Cheang than those films previously mentioned. However, make no mistake, this isn’t like his Monkey King outings. Twilight of the Warriors is a brutally unflinching actioner, so much so that I was surprised it was only given a 15 certificate in the UK. Cheang fills his film with one bloody beatdown after another, with each fight being filled with stabbings, gouging and decapitations.

Based on Andy Seto’s Manhua City of Darkness, Twilight of the Warriors: Walled In takes place within the confines of the famed Kowloon Walled City where young Chan Lok-kwun (Raymond Lam) finds himself after being chased by crazed gangster King (Philip Ng), the right hand man of gang boss Mr Big (Sammo Hung). Not understanding the rules, Chan unsuccessfully tries to do a drug deal which brings him to the attention of Cyclone (Louis Koo), the sworn protector of the Walled City.

Cyclone initially wants Chan out of the city but reluctantly allows him to stay, with Chan carrying out an assortment of jobs while at the same time forging a number of relationships with other inhabitants of the city. Chan becomes close with Shin (Terrance Lau), AV (German Cheung) and Twelfth Master (Tony Wu) as well as Cyclone who takes him under his wing.

As Chan builds himself a life, secrets are uncovered that could put everyone in the Walled City at risk, with him having to help Cyclone and his friends fight off a planned invasion of the Walled City from Mr Big.

It has taken quite a while for Twilight of the Warriors to reach the screen, with an earlier version set to go before cameras in the early 2000s. That take on the material was due to be co-directed by John Woo and Johnnie To, with a cast made up of veritable superstars like Chow Yun Fat, Andy Lau, Tony Leung Chiu-wai, Lau Ching Wan and, interestingly, Louis Koo.

As seems to be the norm, the film devolved into development hell. A later version was announced in 2014 which would have united director Derek Kwok and martial arts megastar Donnie Yen, with Yen additionally choreographing the action. Likewise, this also got stuck in development hell before Media Asia once again forged ahead on a new version with Soi Cheang at the helm.

Thankfully, Cheang’s version has reached the screen, albeit with a few changes in the announced cast. Sadly, there is no Max Zhang, but when you have Louis Koo, Sammo Hung and Philip Ng featuring, any disappointment is diminished.

Soi Cheang has delivered an engrossing and visually rich action drama, with the completed film hardly setting a foot wrong. Harkening back to the glory days of 1980s Hong Kong cinema but at the same time feeling modern, Twilight of the Warriors is so far the best action film I have seen in 2024. It isn’t as morally complex as Cheang’s more artistic Limbo, but Cheang still brings those sensibilities to the film. This is no simple actioner with clear cut hero and villain roles. Even the supposed heroes of the film are somewhat ambiguous. In other films they could even be perceived as villains.

As dark as the plot becomes in the film, Cheang still manages to inject some humor into proceedings. Admittedly, some of it is extremely black humor, it does help liven the mood. It also shows that even though the Walled City may be a hotbed of crime, not everything inside is miserable, with many enjoying the freedom that the city provides. Cheang also smartly shows it to be a community that looks out for each other, with a hilarious (but violent) scene showing how they deal with woman beaters.

Now, I can’t really compare the adaptation to its comic book counterpart, having never read it. I went into Twilight of the Warriors with no prior knowledge of the source material, so some characters may have been changed in their transition to the screen. Even so, Cheang has assembled a top tier cast made up of Hong Kong cinema legends that are coupled with the new generation of action stars. Not one cast member sets a foot wrong, with each performer giving their characters a distinct personality that just adds to the richness of the overall film.

Leading the team is superstar Louis Koo as Cyclone. Koo is perfect as the cool and collected crime boss, with this being one of his finest performances in some time. Cyclone is conflicted in the film, with his loyalties being tested throughout. Unlike his fellow gang bosses, Cyclone clearly cares for the inhabitants of the Walled City and when push comes to shove will kill for them.

Koo’s Cyclone is the polar opposite of Sammo Hung’s Mr Big, whose only interest is increasing his wealth. To many martial arts movie fans, myself included, one of the main selling points of the film was that it featured Hung in a main role, and thankfully he doesn’t disappoint. Of course, no one is expecting him to be pulling off the same moves he was in his prime, but he is incredibly spry for a man of 72, with him getting to show off his skills in the latter half of the film. His face off with Koo is especially well done, with both actors appearing to be extremely powerful as they throw everything at each other.

Hung has played villains before, most memorably in Wilson Yip’s SPL (2005), but unlike his crime boss in that film, Mr Big is a more unkempt, sleazy figure. Unlike the other crime bosses who all wear suits and are smartly dressed, Mr Big looks like he has just stepped out of bed. Adding to the overall look is his bum bag or as it’s called in the U.S., fanny pack.

Whereas in SPL Hung’s character still had some values such as the love for his wife and son, Mr Big has none of that, willing to turn on anyone. He also seems to have quite the predilection for porn magazines. This is certainly a different kind of role for the action legend, with Hung seeming to revel in the freedom such a character provides.

Although Koo and Hung are notably two of the film’s biggest stars, the lead role is actually filled by Raymond Lam, with the plot pivoting around his character Chan Lok-kwan. His entry into the Walled City has serious repercussions to all involved. Like his more famous co-stars, Lam is terrific in his role, with him getting the majority of the film’s action scenes which he excels at. Lam has been working consistently for years, going back to the late 90s.

Latterly, action fans may remember him from P Storm (2019) or New Kung Fu Cult Master (2022) both of which had him acting alongside his Twilight of the Warriors co-star Louis Koo. Personally, I don’t think either of those films mentioned used him to the best of his abilities, with him not making much of an impression. Luckily that isn’t the case here, with Lam making for a terrific lead. Hopefully this leads to similar, high profile work for him.

Speaking of action stars not being used to the best of their abilities, the perpetually underrated Philip Ng easily comes to mind. Ng has consistently impressed with his martial arts skills but hasn’t really been given the proper vehicles to showcase these. While now and again he has been cast as the lead, with Once Upon a Time in Shanghai (2014) or Undercover Punch and Gun (2019), a lot of the time he is cast in supporting roles that are either beneath him or don’t give him much to do.

His role in Twilight of the Warriors may once again be a supporting role, but he is easily one of the highlights of the film, with the filmmakers taking full advantage of his martial arts skills. He gets several beautifully choreographed fights in the film, with Ng’s King being a force to be reckoned with. I was surprised by the character’s hidden Chi powers, something I wasn’t expecting considering how darkly serious the film gets, but it just added another exciting dimension to the action, with Ng being almost unstoppable. At one point Ng takes on four of the film’s heroes at once, with each of them struggling to even get in a punch.

King is completely demented, and seems to be even more determined for power than his boss Mr Big. Ng plays the role as if he has taken a bag of speed beforehand, with King always chuckling away no matter how insane events become. Add to this a dress sense from hell and the world’s wildest mullet that contributes to making Ng’s King one of the most memorable villains in some time.

Even the film’s smaller roles all give the actors the chance to make an impression. An initially unrecognizable Richie Jen makes for a spiteful villain, willing to do whatever it takes to get his revenge. While his screen time is limited, Jen makes the most of it, even getting to take part in one of the films main set pieces.

Terrance Lau, Tony Wu and German Cheung make for a winning trio, with the three of them eventually all coming together to aid Lam’s Chan. As well as showing off their considerable martial arts skills, they bring with them an emotional edge, with their loyalty and brotherhood to Chan bringing to mind the great heroic bloodshed films of the 1980s and 90s.

I would be remiss not to also mention superstar Aaron Kwok who surprisingly shows up in a small supporting role. He brings his usual charisma and charm to his performance, with his character being extremely important to the main plot.

As great a director Soi Cheang is, at least half of the success of Twilight of the Warriors should be attributed to action choreographer extraordinaire Kenji Tanigaki. One of the best in action choreographers/directors in the business, Tanigaki has excelled himself, with Twilight of the Warriors featuring some of his best work to date.

The scale of the action progressively builds from each set piece to the next, from the initial chase that leads Lam into the Walled City, onto his fights with Koo and Jen then onto the prolonged finale that features Lam and his friends facing off against an army of triads, including the seemingly undefeatable Philip Ng. Tanigaki creates a fine mix of grounded realism alongside the fantastical, with characters pulling off humanly impossible moves. This could appear strange, but Cheang and Tanigaki beautifully integrate these elements into the film.

Twilight of the Warriors really is the full package. As great as the performances and action are, what truly makes them work is having them take place in such a perfect setting. The Walled City is impressively realized, with the terrific set design of Mak Kwok-Keung memorably recreating this long since gone part of Hong Kong. Although I had never visited the location in person, I have seen it featured in enough films through the years, with Mak’s work feeling like a fair approximation of how the city was.

It also helps that the sets and the action that takes place within are strikingly captured by Johnnie To’s regular cinematographer Cheng Siu-Keung, continuing his collaborations with Soi Cheang after Limbo and Mad Fate. Anyone who has seen his previous work will have a fair idea of how rich the visuals here are.

Then there’s Kenji Kawai’s score which is a fine accompaniment to the on screen action, hitting all the right notes during the film, with some parts of his score being melancholic before speeding up to get the pulses racing. I especially appreciated the incorporation of Howard Blake’s The Snowman theme, with it being unexpectedly fitting to the events on screen.

Twilight of the Warriors: Walled In is everything I hoped it would be and more. Proving that Hong Kong action cinema is alive and well, Soi Cheang’s latest is easily one of the best action films of the year and deserves to be seen on the big screen. Currently showing in the UK thanks to Cine-Asia, there is a U.S. scheduled release coming soon courtesy of Well Go USA.

The success of the film has already led to two sequels being green-lit, with Soi Cheang and producer Wilson Yip slated to return. As long as the ensuing movies keep up the high quality of the first film we could be looking at one of the finest action trilogies to come along in years.

Plot: 4/5
Acting: 5/5
Action: 5/5
Overall: 4.6/5


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.