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‘Fistful of Vengeance’ Is A Violent Strike On Our Inner Demons – Review

By Angel Amaral

Fistful of Vengeance is a fantasy-action Netflix Original connected to the Wu Assassins series. The show is about Kai Jin (Iko Uwais), a young chef from San Francisco, chosen by 1000 monks to defeat evil mythical warlords. These warlords are called “chi-vampires” because they suck the life force out of other humans so they can live forever. They also gain more power by collecting Wu Xings, which are mystical artifacts that hold supernatural power of the four elements — fire, metal, earth, and water.

Lewis Tan as Lu Xin Lee as Kai, Iko Uwais as Kai, Pearl Thusi as Zama, Lawrence Kao as Tommy Wah in Fistful of Vengeance. (Courtesy of Netflix)

Kai is the last Wu Assassin with the magical power of the other 1000 monks, which enhances his martial arts and strength along with making him invulnerable to the warlords. As the chosen one, his mission is to destroy all the warlords and protect the earth from despotic control. If I’ve lost you with the description already, then this movie is definitely not for you. If these elements appeal to you, you are ready to enter the world of Fistful of Vengeance. With a title like that, there is no sucker punch, you should know exactly what to expect. As over the top, as this movie is, I loved that it stayed grounded with the emotional moments between the characters. It’s not just about destroying outer forces of evil, it is also a violent strike on our inner demons.

The film follows Kai, Tommy Wah (Lawrence Kao), and Lu Xin Lee’s (Lewis Tan) quest to get revenge for the murder of a loved one. The culprit they seek is the Wu Queen of Bangkok’s underworld. I love when action films have average revenge plot structures because it is strong enough to follow the main characters. A contemporary film that also utilizes this structure is John Wick. In John Wick, Keanu Reeves hunts down the Russian mafia that killed his dog. The movies share the similarity of characters either being betrayed or harmed and seeking justice on the people that had wronged them. The storylines can go in any direction, therefore they become unique and the viewer doesn’t know what to expect. 

I had a blast following these characters. They all felt like brothers and that’s something I resonated with immensely because I have four younger brothers. I would do anything to protect them and to see the protagonist share the same intensity to save his loved ones allowed me to connect with him easily. It also helps to care when I’m watching Indonesian actor Iko Uwais, one of the greatest action stars of all time. If you don’t believe me, then you need to see his other films which include, The Raid Redemption, The Raid 2, and The Night Comes For Us–each of those films are masterpieces and his fight choreography is elite. His on-screen presence radiates the same power as other martial arts legends like Bruce Lee, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Jackie Chan, and Jet Li. It’s impossible not to root for him to prevail as the hero. Although this movie doesn’t match the quality of his previous masterpieces, the fight choreography does not miss a beat. It’s just a shame that they kept constantly cutting away from his close hand-to-hand combat.

In addition, the other characters are likable as well. The chemistry between the main three friends is powerful. It feels like they’ve known each other for a lifetime. I love that the three main characters represented different negative aspects of the human condition. For example, Kai represented anger for the death of his loved one. Tommy represented guilt for the tragedy. Lastly, Lu was the embodiment of ego because his focus was to be superior to a Wu Assassin. As a result, neither of them could reach their potential while fighting off malevolent beings. Their arc is about learning to get over their emotions, which I thought gave the movie substance underneath the fantastical action. Hanging out with them as they fight to stop ancient powers was definitely worth my time. The movie feels close in tone to Mortal Kombat. Surprisingly, it is graphic, the villains are monstrous, and the martial arts are fast and furious.

Lewis Tan as Lu Xin Lee in Fistful of Vengeance (Courtesy of Netflix)

However, the faults in the movie regarding the cinematography, tonal inconsistency, and bland villains prevent this from being a total knockout. For instance, the way the movie looks is completely different from the show, especially the colour grading. The show looks more grounded and blends the mystical elements naturally. It feels tangible because it reflects how our world looks. The movie looks like it has the Kelvin Instagram filter the whole time, which was extremely distracting and harsh on the eyes. Maybe their reasoning was to create a sense of otherworldliness, it’s a bold choice that I respect, but personally, I prefer how the show looks. 

In addition, the movie has moments that felt out of place, especially the music that was implemented within the fight scenes. The questionable song choices ranged from Eminem to Zayn Malik. The fate of the world would be at stake and then a random song that had no connection to the scene would play in the background. It felt like I was watching a lacklustre music video at times. Consequently, the soundtrack would diminish the power of the acting and the dramatic emotion they were trying to elicit. 

Finally, the villains are as bland as they come. Yes, they commit acts of immorality and cruelty, but it’s never clear what compels them to do so. The best villains are complex and try to justify their actions. Their conviction to do what they believe is right makes them memorable. The villains here just want more power and control because they’re evil. It’s cliche and not as effective as it used to be.

Ultimately, the problems in Fistful of Vengeance are not bad enough to make you tap out. There’s a group fight scene with cleaver knives at the 40-minute mark that makes this worth a watch for any action fanatic. The moral of the story is to always fight the good fight externally or internally, but never fight angry or be scared to ask for help. It is only until we learn to overcome our emotional vulnerabilities that we can fully control our mind, body, and soul to help others.

Rating: 6/10

Fistful Of Vengeance premieres on Netflix on February 17

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