REVIEW: Fistful of Vengeance

 Movies sometimes struggle delivering films with mystical elements.  History has proven that audiences can accept stories with magic central to the plot.  All we need to do is look at the success of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Harry Potter and Star Wars films.  However, films with magic can also be difficult for people to engage with if they are not packaged right.  Part of the problem, I think, is when a film seems ashamed of its mystical side and does not go all in.  This can make for an awkward and disconnected viewing experience, at least for me personally.

When a movie comes along and is overwhelmingly unashamed of the magic involved in its plot, I get rather excited.  Why is this?  It is because it seems so rare for a production to not flinch at the fact that fantasy is a part of the script.  Netflix's Fistful of Vengeance immediately begins with laying down and diving headfirst into otherworldly and supernatural aspects.  The three main characters have fistfuls of vengeance, and the film is a follow up to a Netflix series called Wu Assassins.

Tommy (Lawrence Kao) and his friends Kai Jin (Iko Uwais) and Lu Xin Lee (Lewis Tan) are crusading to avenge the death of Tommy's sister.  Their path of destruction leads them to Thailand, where they have to face beings with ancient Chinese powers.  The opening sequence is brimming with fighting and magic, just the way a movie like this should begin.

Throughout the film, there are a number of decent hand to hand combat set pieces.  Each as shot well, but they fall short of being mesmerizing and don't reach the level of some other movies out there.  Iko Uwais has been in many action films, and is probably most well known for The Raid: Redemption, where he absolutely shone as the protagonist.  The combat in Fistful of Vengeance never reaches the same level as his other films, and I did not think it did well enough to suit the abilities he wields.

Still, it's not bad.  It's just not great.  As well, actor Lewis Tan has action film experience.  Last year, he was the main character in Mortal Kombat, Cole Young, one of the most boring and lacking individuals I've seen in a few years.  Fistful of Vengeance shows that Tan can be very fun to watch, and that the problem with Cole Young was more an issue with the script and direction within Mortal Kombat.

The beginning of the film seems to establish Tommy as the lead character, but that falls apart a bit as the film progresses.  As the runtime passes before us, Kai Jin takes that role, but even then it doesn't seem like director Roel Reine is confident in who is pushing the narrative forward.  There is a jostling happening, and while some movies have a group of people acting as the protagonist, here it comes across differently, that one person is the main connection point.

Another issue I have with the film is the middle section.  There are moments of action, but a lot of the magical elements disappear.  We are left with the characters, and they aren't exactly the most interesting people we can choose to watch for ninety six minutes.  Parts really drag, my attention lost, and a promising opening felt as though it was a fluke instance in an otherwise drab spectacle.

And then comes the third act, where Reine doubles down on absolutely everything.  Insanity takes over, as mystical powers are in abundance, and the action is nonstop.  I now felt during the doldrums of the second act were no longer relevant to the experience.  The fun absurdity sucked me in, and I felt like a kid again, secretly watching a violent movie that my parents would have forbade.  Mom and dad, if you are reading this, that never actually happened.  No need to get upset.  At no point in my youth did I ever watch a movie that was too mature for my age. Never happened.  Ever.

Fistful of Vengeance sure is not a perfect film.  There is a lot that could have been changed that would make it a much better viewing.  Regardless, it is the film's absolute lack of shame about magic and ancient Chinese powers that captured my heart.  I don't know if I would watch it again, because I'm sure the second act would feel even more dull on a second viewing.  That really doesn't matter, though.  I've seen it once, and the overall joy beat out those lesser moments.  If you have a hankering for something that feels like a modern and more serious version of Big Trouble in Little China, then you should give Fistful of Vengeance a shot.

Rating - 3 out of 4 stars