Let’s just say that I had limited expectations from Fistful of Vengeance, and my assumptions were right on the nose. The film is basically an excuse to stage a series of choreographed fights, with the script making little to no sense, full of dialogue that has you groaning out loud. It is even more unfortunate that the fight scenes, the main reason to watch the film, are more a display of rehearsed moves than thrilling action.
Fistful of Vengeance is a movie offshoot of the Netflix series Wu Assassins. It’s best that you have some familiarity with that series if you want to understand this movie at all. In the series, we meet the cast of characters: Kai Jin (Iko Uwais, Indonesian actor and martial artist) is a seemingly mild-mannered chef in San Francisco, who finds out he’s the latest in the line of Wu Assassins to keep evil Wu Xing powers from taking over the world. Kai acquires supernatural powers and, with his friends Lu Xin Lee (Lewis Tan) and siblings Tommy and Jenny Wah (Lawrence Kao and Li Jun Li), is able to keep an unnecessarily complicated gang of deadly ancient powers from destroying the world.
It’s a little hard to summarize Wu Assassins because the story was so convoluted, and filled with bad writing. However, the action scenes were slick and well choreographed, earning the series a fair amount of acclaim when it was released. Fistful of Vengeance takes that disregard for a coherent storyline or any sense of passage of time to a whole new level.
The movie opens announcing that Jenny is dead, and that Tommy, Kai and Lu Xin are intent on seeking revenge. An amulet with mysterious powers is involved and the group ends up in Thailand, where they come across the yin-yang forces of William Pan (Jason Tobin), who comes across as some kind of visionary billionaire developer with powers of mind control, and his twin sister Ku An Qi (Rhatha Phongam), the head of the Bangkok underworld who can control bodies. The heroic trio are assisted by Preeya (Francesca Corney), who has some kind of hook-up with Tommy, and Zama (Pearl Thusi), who seems to be an Interpol agent or some similarly vague law-enforcement agency with a uniform that’s more Lara Croft than James Bond.
None of this matters. The story is a bizarre mixture of clichés and martial arts tropes that borrow from Taoist principles with the same kind of reckless abandon that’s missing from the action scenes. Every now and then, the cast takes a break from the brawls to spout dialogue, make wisecracks or remember the reason they are on this self-appointed mission. When it comes to the action, there are several moments when you can clearly see the choreography, actors waiting for their turns to get in on the action or instances when director Roel Reiné likely yelled “Cut!” even as the loud soundtrack distractingly pulsates in the background.
It is glorious to see a predominantly Asian cast, including Asian-Americans, and extended scenes set against a gorgeous Thai backdrop. However, there’s little else to enjoy in this middling martial arts flick.
Director: Roel Reiné
Writer: Cameron Litvack, Jessica Chou, Yalun Tu
Starring: Iko Uwais, Lewis Tan, Lawrence Kao, JuJu Chan, Pearl Thusi, Francesca Corney, Jason Tobin, Rhatha Phongam, Simon Kuke
Release Date: February 17, 2022 (Netflix)
Aparita Bhandari is an arts and life reporter in Toronto. Her areas of interest and expertise lie in the intersections of gender, culture and ethnicity. She is the producer and co-host of the Hindi language podcast, KhabardaarPodcast.com. You can find her on Twitter. Along with Bollywood, Toblerone bars are one of her guilty pleasures.