A sendoff to Wu Assassins that delivers heaps of gritty action, Fistful of Vengeance is a solid actioner that lacks in some key areas.
This review of Fistful of Vengeance is spoiler-free.
It takes an effort to remember this now, but Wu Assassins was a 2019 Netflix series in which Iko Uwais played a Chinatown chef named Kai who, through a series of rather convoluted events, became a magical warrior monk. It was a deeply silly and highly flawed series that was easy to enjoy because of its gonzo energy and Uwais’s extensive physical gifts, especially since virtually all of his Hollywood appearances have been disappointing after his all-time-great work in The Raid and its sequel. Anyway, the show ran for one season and was canceled, and nobody assumed we’d see anything more from it.
Enter, then, Fistful of Vengeance, a feature film that continues the story. But despite the obvious connections, it’s no accident that there’s no mention of Wu Assassins in the title – as well as a satisfying coda, this film also works as a standalone actioner in which Uwais, Lewis Tan (Lu Xin), and Lawrence Kao (Tommy) punch, kick, and occasionally CGI their way through reams of henchmen and vaguely mythical creatures. Some knowledge of the series will help, but it isn’t mandatory.
And it’s fair to say that Fistful of Vengeance feels distinct. It relies less heavily on special effects and feels grittier, like a slightly psychedelic version of something like The Night Comes For Us (although not quite that gritty, obviously). The action has been relocated to Thailand, and the plot involves vampires called Jiangshi and a supernatural being named Ku An Qi (Yayaying Rhatha Phongam) that wants to resurrect the first man, Pan Gu. Little of this really matters in the grand scheme of things, though, instead providing a helpful framework for several extended action set-pieces that honestly comprise most of the movie (which isn’t a criticism in the least.)
These set-pieces are largely very solid, though could have been cut up less. The choreography is still clear and the geography still easy to follow, but a steadier, wider angle would have helped some of the impact and tension, especially when the action enters tighter spaces and involves smaller groups. What I did appreciate, though, was the combination of fisticuffs, melee weapons, and gunplay, giving each of the characters – including newcomers Preeya and Interpol agent Zama – a distinct style. Francesca Corney isn’t as physically convincing as the others, but it’s nice that all of the action isn’t left to Uwais and Tan, despite them being truly phenomenal contemporary action stars.
The character moments leave more to be desired, especially a tokenistic and half-baked love story between Zama and Lu Xin, and a late betrayal that seems par for the course. You can tell that the plot and the character arcs weren’t the focus here, and that’s fine until it starts raising more questions than you’d like about who’s who and what’s what. But Fistful of Vengeance is undeniably generous in its action, which is the real selling point anyway, and aside from some instances of extras waiting their turn to attack, which is always a notable issue, there’s enough craft and invention in the fight sequences to really make this film worth a recommendation for genre fans, even those who haven’t seen Wu Assassins. But one can’t help but wish it was slightly better than it is.