Action director: Zhang Peng
The Wrath Of Vajra is a martial arts action film set in China during World War II. It will debut tomorrow, Tuesday, March 18th on Blu-ray, DVD and digital (video-on-demand, electronic sell-through and streaming) from Well Go USA.
The story concerns a fictional Japanese death cult called Hades. During the 1930s it kidnapped poor children from China and elsewhere and trained them as assassins. During World War II it was disbanded because its strategy clashed with that of the Japanese military. Amano Kawao, its founder and spiritual leader was imprisoned and its members exiled. Faced with what the film describes as the "strong resistance" of the Chinese, the Japanese military decides to revive Hades to facilitate its total conquest of that country, and a Japanese prince meets with Amano in his prison cell to begin this process.
|K-29 (right) with the kindly Shaolin elder
The Hades Shrine, reconstructed in China near the Southern Shaolin Temple in China, is headed by Kurashige Daisuke (Steve Yoo, Man of Tai Chi), who is assisted by a High Priest and numerous followers. Like others who as children were trained by the cult, Kurashige has a designation tattooed on his arm; his is K-28. Another member of the cult was K-29, who escaped from Hades, became a disciple at the Southern Shaolin Temple, and is now known as the King of Vajra (Shi Yenneng, a.k.a. Xing Yu, who was in Kung Fu Hustle, Ip Man, & Shaolin and who here makes his debut in a leading role.) K-29 is a kung fu adept familiar with the 17-second Deadly Moves. He also harbors the terrible memory of having killed his brother, K-31, in a fight when they were children.
When the Hades Cult kidnaps Qingkong, a young monk from the Shaolin Temple, as well as a number of other children, K-29 goes to the shrine determined to set all the children free. There he finds that a number of prisoners of war, including three former members of Hades, are being forced to fight in the "killing game" that serves as training practice for cult members. K-29 himself must fight three opponents in succession:
|K-29 (left) fights Tetsumaku
-- Tetsumaku Rai (Jiang Baocheng, Legendary Assassin), a massive fighter two meters tall
-- Crazy Monkey (Poppin Hyun-Joon, a trained dancer) who has incredibly sinuous and deadly moves
-- Hades Cult leader Kurashige Daisuke in the film's climactic encounter which takes place in the rain
The film is highly imaginative, almost an alternative history. Very little of it -- beyond the hatred of the Chinese for what the Japanese did to them during World War II -- has any basis in historical accuracy. Some of the dialogue could almost come from a fortune cookie. For example, K-29's kindly old master at the Shaolin Temple says: "Only when one's feelings are true can one trigger The Wrath of Vajra" and that when moderated by compassion, it is the true path.
|Crazy Monky (dancer Poppin Hyun-Joon)
Ya Mei, in her first film role, provides some welcome estrogen in this understandably testosterone heavy film. She plays Amano Eko, the daughter of the founder of the Hades Cult. The character is a journalist at the cult's shrine and comes to serve as the one example of a "good Japanese" in the film.
Of course, the film's main reason for existing are the action sequences and here great credit must be given to action director Zhang Peng. He utilizes not only Shaolin Kung Fu (Shi Yenneng is both a martial artist and a former Shaolin month), but also Japanese martial arts, Sanda (a.k.a. Sanshou, a Chinese fighting style similar to Muay Thai and Kickboxing), and Tae kwon do (Steve Yoo's specialty). All three of the fights in which K-29 engages are well choreographed and filmed, but my favorite is the one that pitted him against Crazy Monkey. Incorporating parkour, it takes place on land, on the bridge leading to the Hades Shrine and in the water! In my opinion, it far and away has the best camera work of any of the film's action sequences.
|K-29 (left) fights Kurashige Daisuke, a.k.a. K-28
The original soundtrack in Mandarin, Japanese and some English is available in both 5.1 and 2.0 versions. Both English and French subtitles are available. An English-dubbed soundtrack can also be selected, again either as 5.1 or 2.0.
Disc bonus features include a "Making Of" feature (25:46) that consists of six segments and a trailer for the film.
ACF Rating: 3 out of 4 stars; recommended. While the story-line is highly fanciful, the martial art scenes are very well done and that's the real reason for coming to this dance.