• The Wrath of Vajra



    Released by: Well Go USA
    Released on: March 11, 2014
    Directed by: Law Wing-cheong
    Cast: Shi Yanneng (Yu Xing), Steve Yoo, Heon Jun Nam
    Year: 2013
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    The Movie

    The Wrath of Vajra begins with a text prologue explaining that, in the 1930s, a secret death cult in the service of the Greek god Hades and operating with the support of the Japanese military kidnapped Chinese children and trained them to become merciless killers who would invade and destroy China. The cult was disbanded, and their leader imprisoned. 12 years later, Japan is losing WWII to China and so the government turns to the imprisoned leader of Hades to train a new generation of death cult warriors. We learn that the best of the original Hades kids, code-named K-29 (Shi Yanneng), escaped to China and became a peaceful Shaolin monk. The leader of the Hades cult turns to his most loyal remaining warrior K-28 (Steve Yoo), and entrusts him with rebuilding the Hades Shrine and recruiting new members into the death cult. Word of the cult's return spreads through China, and after a child is kidnapped from the Shaolin temple where K-29 lives, the monk returns to the rebuilt Hades Shrine to rescue the kid and finish off K-28 and the cult once and for all.

    Director Law Wing-cheong is most well-known as an assistant director for Johnnie To. He's worked with To on some of his most acclaimed productions, including Election and Election 2, and it’s clear from his work with To and in this film that Wing-cheong is adept at directing stylish action set pieces. There are a few CGI sequences that don't quite work in the movie, but the most part, The Wrath of Vajra delivers all the martial arts skil, impressive wirework and hyperkinetic fight cinematography that you expect from classic Kung Fu cinema, mixed with the CGI and speed ramping of a Zack Snyder film. This mix of modern-day Hollywood and Chinese action movie aesthetics doesn't always work, but action choreographer Peng Zhang (Scott Pilgrim Vs The World, Kick Ass) balances these Western and Eastern influences well.

    Shi Yanneng (Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons, Ip Man, Kung Fu Hustle) delivers a strong performance as the stoic K-29. Shi comes across as reserved and quiet, until he unleashes his inner rage during the movie’s standout fight sequences. He has a look that recalls Jet Li even if he doesn’t quite have the same level of charisma or acting ability. Korean-American pop star Steve Yoo is also uncharismatic and doesn't fare well as an actor either, but he acquits himself well in his final fight with K-29. The cast are pretty forgettable overall. The most memorable characters in the film are the two monstrous Hades warriors that act as mini-bosses leading up to the final fight between K-29 and K-28, with the stand-out character being the blood-drinking, long-fingernail-having Hades warrior Crazy Monkey, played by Korean break-dancer “Poppin” Heong Jun Nam.

    The weakest members of the cast are the child actor who plays the kidnapped Shaolin boy, who is just annoying, and the large group of non-Asian actors that make up the 3rd Chinese Battalion. These guys are introduced early on in the film and are given some really awkward dialogue to recite in English, Mandarin and Japanese that makes for a few unintentionally funny scenes, and this is the case in the English dub and original language version of the movie. There's no audio option to fix how bad these guys are at acting. Their performances are awful and their inclusion is strange, even for a movie that already takes a lot of liberties with WWII history.

    For a movie about an evil cult that forces a Shaolin monk to fight in a series of death matches against increasingly tough opponents, there is an overemphasis on melodramatic subplots that detracts from the action and pacing. The breaks between the fight scenes are too long and if you're not engaged in the melodramatic filler then the movie will really bore. To put this into perspective, there are four subplots, one plot twist involving a minor secondary character, and three major fight scenes, each fight lasting about 10-15 minutes, in a movie that runs just under two hours long. When these fights between K-29 and the Hades champions do occur, each scene is well-paced and has its own style and arena setting, but they don’t occur often enough. The fights ramp up in frequency during the last 20 minutes, and the final battle between K-28 and K-29 is a titanic throwdown in the rain that looks incredible in high-definition, but whether it's worth the wait will depend on your tolerance for excessive subplots and melodrama in a martial arts movie.

    Audio/Video/Extras

    The Wrath of Vajra is presented in 2.39.1 widescreen on Blu-ray with an MPEG-4 AVC encode. Colors in the film are oversaturated, and many of the darker scenes have a bluish or blue-green hue. Many of the films scenes appear dark around the edges of the frame, and shadow details suffer throughout due to the saturation. However, this saturation issue doesn't obscure any significant details, which look better and more hi-def during close-ups and action sequences, where more attention to detail seems to have been paid (and rightly so). Daytime sequences are also more detailed, and feature bolder colours due to the bright red and gold saturation levels. Setting these problems with color saturation aside, this is still an acceptable high-definition transfer that's better than DVD quality and looks great once it's in motion.

    Audio setup options for The Wrath of Vajra include Mandarin and Japanese 5.1 DTS HD and 2.0 Stereo, English 5.1 DTS-HD, and an English 2.0 Stereo track. Subtitles are available in English and French. The 2.0 Stereo tracks both sounds good, but the 5.1 DTS-HD audio settings are really impressive, delivering a full, bombastic mix perfectly suited to the hard-hitting action and sweeping, epic score of the film.

    Extras include a 25-minute Making Of documentary that split into seven chapters, a trailer for The Wrath of Vajra and previews for three other Well Go USA releases.

    The Final Word

    The Wrath of Vajra delivers a nice balance of traditional martial arts and modern action movie aesthetics that will satisfy fans of contemporary Asian action cinema. The unnecessary subplots and melodrama bloats what should have been a leaner, pacier film. However, in spite of some of these problems, all of the major fight scenes are excellent- particularly in the second half of the film. If you're fan of stylish martial arts movies and can overlook these issues, then you'll enjoy The Wrath of Vajra.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!