WARRIORS OF THE NATION (aka THE UNITY OF HEROES 2) (2018) review

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After Lin Zhenzhao’s The Unity of Heroes proved an online hit earlier this year, a sequel was fast-tracked then released – straight to VOD again – a mere seven months later, marking the third time Vincent Zhao has reprised the role of Wong Fei Hung in 2018 (Jeff Lau’s starrier and big screen-released Kung Fu League was a flop, however). Taking over directing duties from Lin, is journeyman Hong Kong filmmaker Marco Mak, no stranger to Wong Fei Hung films, having edited all six films in the Once Upon a Time in China series. The plot for The Unity of Heroes 2 moves away from the first instalment’s pulpy vibe, trading evil gweilos for Japanese devils (Kenya Sawada is on villain duties again after Jiang Wen’s Hidden Man), and enhanced fighters for mild political intrigue involving corrupt officials and the White Lotus Sect (with the opening ritual scene a direct borrow from Tsui Hark’s Once Upon a Time in China II).

While the story has nothing memorable or thrilling, Mak has the good sense to keep action scenes plentiful – much more than in the previous film. And though some wobbly camera moves, instances of shots re-used within the same fight and occasional clumsy wirework betray the film’s modest budget, there’s still passable fighting on hand, including a touch of novelty for a Wong Fei Hong film, as Vincent Zhao fights a roomful of Sumotori (over too soon), grapples on the floor with a slinky Miya Muqi as the White Lotus’ leader (in another scene, she wields flying cutthroats), and has an extended swordfight with Sawada.

The old-school Hong Kong feel of the action scenes is even more pronounced than in the first instalment, with Master Wong treading on flying silk at one point. And the humour is occasionally amusing in an mildly lowbrow way: Leung Foon gets buried under a pile of Sumotori, Bucktooth’s prized gun keeps misfiring pathetically… Wei Xiaohuan, the conflicted henchwoman from the first film, returns and shines again, especially when kicking people, making a good case for better roles in the future. Puzzlingly, the Chinese title translates as “Wrath of the Sea”, and the poster does show a wrathful sea, but there are no such scenes in the film itself.

Long Story Short: Vincent Zhao’s pleasant but uneventful return to his signature interim role continues with The Unity of Heroes 2, a poorly-written but fight-heavy slice of old school Hong Kong-style entertainment. **1/2

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