At the moment there are two major trends when it comes to Chinese action movies. While not universal they can usually be identified as either gritty crime thrillers or epic period pieces. By no means am I saying this is a bad thing. Not only do they sell but some of the best movies I’ve seen over the past few years fit into this category (Drug War, SPL, Bodyguards and Assassins). That all said I’d be lying if I said there weren’t genre tropes at this point. Which is why I found a movie like The Wrath of Vajra to be a breathe of fresh air.
It’s 1930’s China and the death cult Hades is slowly taking over the country for Japan. Kidnapping and brainwashing children they are amassing an army that will spread across China. Led by their top fighter K-28 (Steve Yoo) they are demoralizing China by defeating the best fighters around the world. When his little brother is kidnapped by Hades former assassin K-29 (Xing Yu) goes to get him back but must battle through the three challenges of Vajra.
In all honesty the actual plot don’t really matter. While it can get pretty crazy, particularly when it comes to Crazy Monkey the Vajra of Zombie, it doesn’t really matter. Much like martial arts movies of the 70’s it’s more or less window dressing for the fights and boy do we have fights. Far outweighing story when it comes to screen time I’m happy to say that the fights deliver. With Sammo Hung and Peng Zhang handling choreography we get a good mix of traditional kung fu, monkey style, weapons and even a bit of parkour. This variety in styles definitely helped the fights from getting monotonous. In addition slow motion was used quite effectively. Unlike some more recent films where it is used heavily it was only done for the more brutal hits. Again this helped keeping the gimmick fresh and not outwearing it’s welcome. As for the acting. Well…
While hardly the worst thing I’ve ever seen they aren’t good either. Aside from the occasional over-the-top villain I can’t say either side emotes all that much. You can understand why most of the actors are relegated to side characters in bigger films. My other big bone of contention is the character of Eko. She’s just so insanely dumb. She’s basically been a one person PR department for this cult and she just now questions whether the cult is good or bad? They don’t even do anything they haven’t done before just “Hey, y’all are jerks” and goes from there. The character doesn’t get a grip of screen time and it’s a relatively minor issue but it’s so obvious that it can’t help but stick out.
Throughout the movie I couldn’t help but think of the Mortal Kombat movie rumors. A movie about a game that’s about a Shaolin monk going up a group of villains in a fighting tournament with some over-the-top opponents. The Wrath of the Vajra is basically the Mortal Kombat movie we won’t be getting. Is the writing good? Not really. Is the movie original? Hardly. But at the end of the day that isn’t what this movie was going for. It was basically one giant sizzle real and it works in that aspect.