COUNTERATTACK (2021) short review

In his directing debut Counterattack, Vincent Zhao stars as Lu Ziming, an elite mercenary who goes on the run in the jungle after being framed for the murder of an oil tycoon in the fictional country of Kunlang; with him is a female reporter (Jiang Yiyi) holding the proof of his innocence. With its jungle action, drone fetish and armed gweilos, Counterattack is cut from the same cloth as Wolf Warrior, another martial arts actor’s directing debut. But while Wu’s film was a big screen hit that relaunched his career, Zhao’s film is a much cheaper affair (no ‘Yu Nan, Ni Dahong and Scott Adkins’-level supporting cast here, and smaller-scale action scenes), and went straight to VOD. It’s still very much a vanity project, with Zhao playing a one-man army repeatedly noted for his handsomeness, and estimated to be “in his thirties” (he was 48 at the time of shooting). The plot is amateurish, a simplistic frame-up followed by an even more simplistic, well, counter-attack. The action, choreographed by Ha Siu Lung (a frequent assistant to Lee Tat Chiu), is mundane, skimpy and awkwardly edited, often making it look like Vincent Zhao has no experience in martial arts (no easy feat). It’s a lot of jungle stalk-and-slash in the first half, followed by compound infiltrate-and-kill in the second half: clearly, Zhao is a Rambo fan, and he even sews himself up like Sly’s iconic Vietnam vet. The latter scene is actually the best of the film (damning with faint praise), a rare moment of intentional levity as Lu Ziming bites on a squeaky toy while removing a bullet from his shoulder – his repressed cries of pain morphing into plastic squeaks. A sequel is teased in a cartoonish epilogue, but Wolf Warrior II needn’t worry for its place in the record books. *1/2