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March 04, 2014

The Wrath of Vajra

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Law Wing-cheong - 2013
Well Go USA Entertainment Region 1 DVD

This film must have been awesome in 3D. Of course, I can only guess, but there are plenty of moments given to depth of field shots, the long corridors of the prison, and shots of the coliseum built for the trained assassins to fight to the death. There are also some frankly painterly exterior shots, green fields and mountains, where nothing dramatic happens, but the pictorial beauty is worth considering.

One of the smartest decisions made in making The Wrath of Vajra was to hire David Richardson as editor. Hopefully, the name is familiar as a regular part of Johnny To's production crew. As is now standard, several of the scenes of fighting are done as a combination of very quick shots. Unlike some films that look like they were edited with a kitchen blender that chopped up the footage into something incomprehensible, Richardson is able to maintain a sense of spatial logic throughout the proceedings.

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Rapid cuts are made between full shots and close-ups of punches, without loss of where two dueling
fighters are in relation to each other or in the space where they are fighting.

Director Law Wing-cheong was an assistant director and editor for Johnny To, which makes this connection less surprising. In front of the camera is a cast primarily chosen for their martial arts abilities. The athleticism of the actors is quite evident, not only in the action scenes, but simply with some of them, especially the two main characters, standing around with their shirts off.

Taking place in the 1930s China, Japan revives a death cult, the Temple of Hades, to help subdue the Chinese. The cult is made up of young men, kidnapped as children to be trained killers. One escapee from the cult, Vajrasattva, now a Shaolin monk, is forced to return to the temple when one very young novice is taken as part of a round-up of young boys to be part of a new generation. Once back at the temple, Vajrasattva is forced face off the best fighters including a giant of a man and a sinewy fellow known as Crazy Monkey.

Even though the film has a historical setting, I could not find any evidence that there was anything like the Temple of Hades, or even a multinational army of soldiers who fought with the Chinese against Japan. Certainly, the daughter of the temple's founder, a journalist named Eko, would have been hauled away by the very real "thought police for choosing to report truth over propaganda.

Those quibble aside, Law Wing-cheong should be heard from more decisively later this Spring, when his new film, Iceman is released. I would recommend the 1989 film, The Iceman Cometh (apologies to Eugene O'Neill), with a hilarious turn by a young Maggie Cheung. Law's film will be a bit more serious, with the focus on an unfrozen Donnie Yen. The teaser trailer suggests that Law is building on his use of 3D action that will be even more stunning.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at March 4, 2014 07:12 AM