Review by C.J. Bunce
It’s tough to review something you’ve been waiting for that doesn’t meet your expectations, especially a sequel to a great, original story. Unfortunately that’s the case with Fistful of Vengeance, Netflix’s newest action movie that forms a sequel to its 2019 streaming wuxia TV series Wu Assassins, one of the Top 10 fantasy television series of the past decade. As with Firefly, another property that went from series to movie, the movie just doesn’t capture the magic that made the series so well received. Fistful of Vengeance isn’t horrible if you really liked the relationship of the three male leads of the series. But in the series they were secondary to the fresh, new world of magic users it created. And aside from international martial arts headliner Iko Uwais and his supporting actor, Mortal Kombat star Lewis Tan, the best parts of the series were left behind.
In Wu Assassins, Uwais played an ambitious chef who learns his adoptive father–and he himself–are part of a legendary shadow world that has given them powerful abilities. For the chef, that’s the “power of 1,000 monks.” In Fistful of Vengeance Uwais may as well have relied on his martial arts talents alone. The young wizard woman played by Celia Au who appeared from the other world to advise him–key to his character’s actions–makes no appearance at all this time. The tough cop, played by Vikings star Katheryn Winnick, is also gone, as are Iron Chef’s Mark Dacascos, Altered Carbon, Arrow, and The Expanse actor Byron Mann, and Kung Fu, Mulan, and The Man in the High Castle actor Tzi Ma. The movie proves that one or two of these elements could have been cut, but getting rid of all of them didn’t leave much of the series’ essence behind.
Viewers will find more of those choreographed fight sequences Uwais is known for, but the visual effects are less, despite high-budget production values. The humor is absent, and the least interesting character, Tommy, who didn’t have any martial arts talent before, now seems to be an equal to the others. As the title suggests, Fistful of Vengeance is at best a play on the plotless 1980s Chuck Norris action for action’s sake kick fest.
Two new women characters are introduced, but their characters lack development and seemed to be random additions. Juju Chan Szeto returns as mob boss Zan Hui, but her character seems like an afterthought. Fans of the series would have loved another entire 10-hour season, but the sequel film we’ve been waiting for is only 90 minutes, and too much is stuffed into the allotted time with not enough good remaining. The combination of director Roel Reiné and writer Cameron Litvack just didn’t work their magic this time.
The trailer looked like less supernatural magic and more like Iko Uwais’s earlier films, high octane and action heavy like The Night Comes for Us and The Raid, and that’s exactly what was delivered. Viewed as an Uwais action movie, Fistful of Vengeance still falls short, missing the heart and struggle of the hero in his earlier movies. What made the series great was the use of magic among international world wizards and the camaraderie of the large cast. Tommy was always the weak link, and he and the two male leads weren’t enough to carry the film.
The production quality is equal to that of Netflix’s Chris Hemsworth movie Extraction, but this one lacks a coherent, interesting plot. A movie only for those who loved the trio of lead males in the series (and one to skip for everyone else), Fistful of Vengeance is now on Netflix.