War (US - BD RA)
Gabe Powers asks: War, uh, good God, what is it good for? Absolutely nothin'...
After his partner and partner’s family are killed by the infamous and elusive assassin Rogue (Jet Li), FBI agent Jack Crawford (Jason Statham) becomes obsessed with revenge as his world unravels into a vortex of guilt and betrayal. Rogue eventually resurfaces to settle a score of his own, setting off a bloody crime war between Asian mob rivals Chang (John Lone) of the Triad's and Yakuza boss Shiro (Ryo Ishibashi). When Jack and Rogue finally come face to face, the ultimate truth of their pasts will be revealed (I just took that from the box art).
The first time that Jet Li and Jason Statham met the result was a terrible, but well meaning film called The One. From then to now Statham went from English wise guy to Hollywood B-Action hero, and Li managed to make a good Western movie, both thanks to the efforts of French über-producer (once über-director) Luc Besson. So the B-movie Gods saw fit to stick these two great tastes that should taste great together back on the silver screen. I know I was looking forward to seeing it.
The first clue of not very goodness should’ve been the last American movie Jet Li played the villain in, a little poop stick called Lethal Weapon 4 (which was bad, but not as bad as Lethal Weapon 3). Divide that by the fact that Li no longer has anything to prove in America after making fistfuls of cash off of garbage Hollywood features like Cradle 2 the Grave. Li’s one good Hollywood film, Danny the Dog (aka Unleased), is really only partially financed by Americans, written, directed, and produced by Frenchmen, and filmed in the UK. Fans of Kiss of the Dragon may disagree, but I get the feeling I should just ignore Li’s American career all together.
Statham, on the other hand, has become the next Bruce Willis. He drifts from film to film playing the same character, is always entertaining, and occasionally stumbles onto a gem that utilizes his talents and features a good hook ( Crank). One just has to assume he’ll always be a dependable badass, and we know he can read bad dialogue better then most B-listers, but if he doesn’t pull himself out of his current rut no one will ever be able to take him seriously. Bruce Willis never really outgrew Die Hard (a classic film that I am not by any means looking down on), but he does have a few Sixth Sense performances under his belt.
War is apparently written by people who have seen about thirty or forty action movies (enough to gather the troops), and assume we are all idiots who’ve never heard of a ‘motion picture’. Every line of dialogue is a cliché, but not in a cool action movie one liner way, in a bad, boring, we don’t know how else to write way. When the carbon paper characters aren’t busy spouting clichés they’re busy spouting the most obvious exposition possible. The plot is the same obsessive cop chasing the ghostly villain shtick that got old the second the third Dirty Harry sequel was spit out, and the characters are about as involving as particle board.
But anyone that’s enjoyed Hard to Kill or Death Sport knows how unimportant the bad and/or derivative plot and characters are to these kinds of films. It’s the bloody, R-rated action that keeps us coming back. Unfortunately no one seems to have told director Philip G. Atwell what ‘kind’ of movie he was making, because he and these writers seem to think they’re making some kind of gangland drama. I guess nobody told them that Ridley Scott already had that genre covered for the year.
So you take Jet Li, who has always been able to kick ass, and Statham, who since The One has learned some rather hardcore kung-fuish stuff, and you have them brood for about ninety minutes. Quick and flashy cuts between boring talk scenes of half assed cop and gangster dialogue, and an occasional explosion are not the same Jet Li and Jason Statham hitting each other. I don’t care if you want to shoot your bad action movie like a Boost Mobile ad, just put some martial arts in the damn thing. When Li and Stratham finally throw down at the very, very end of the movie, the scene makes no sense given the positively idiotic twist that was revealed in the scene before.
1080 progressive lines of boring never looked so good. I’ve spent enough time with my Blu-ray player to have an idea of how perfect high-definition can look, and this disc is actually rather average for the format, which is to say it still looks rather great. Edges are razor sharp, but the details aren’t quite as sharp as the format allows. The lines on Statham’s forehead and pock marks on Li’s cheeks are clearer then SD, but overall things are a bit on the smooth side. Colours are warm, and when needed bright without bleeding, and blacks are deep and solid. Noise is noticeable everywhere, but is mostly fine in nature.
Compatibility issues prevent me from checking out the PCM 7.1 track, but the Dolby Digital EX track is spiffing. The film’s score is very percussive, and the track works it bombastically without losing sound definition in effects or dialogue. The dialogue is all very clear, and unlike some Blu-ray EX tracks the centre channel doesn’t overpower the rest of the track. The sound is evenly dispersed. Surround effects are shockingly effective at times, like when Li snipes a baddie from the right rear channel, and hits his target dead centre channel, or during the car chase when the wind from passing cars is almost tangible. This isn’t the liveliest track on record, but it does what it sets out to do well.
The director’s commentary is a PiP ‘visual’ commentary, which is code for simply sticking the director’s face in the corner. Really, there’s no point to it, which is good, because my Blu-ray player isn’t good enough to fully support the PiP extras. It worked for a little bit, but I couldn’t skip between functions without losing the director’s head and freezing up the player. The commentary itself is rather solemn. Atwell mostly drones about production details, and there’s a lot of awkward blank space (probably because he had a camera aimed at his face).
The writer’s commentary is ridiculously geeky. Basically our boys excitedly tell us what’s specifically happening on screen. Actually, they go deeper then they, they really get to the subtext of their script, the meaning of the character’s human interactions. Or that’s what they think they’re doing. In reality it’s one of the most obnoxiously overstated commentary tracks I’ve ever listened to. They don’t just write in clichés, they speak in them.
The audio trivia track is weird. First off, it’s not accessible during the feature play mode, only from the main menu. Then there’s the fact that it’s an audio trivia track, not subtitled information or PiP interviews. Sometimes, when cast and crew members speak (taken from interviews) random behind the scenes stills pop up on screen, not centred or anything, you know, just wherever. The narrator is very obviously not a native English speaker, and her Japanese accent adds a dash more oddity to the stew. The information is, err, informative, but most of the factoids are totally uninteresting, such as the facts of the Lionsgate logo, or what state musical artist MIA was born in.
‘The War Chest’ is a branching featurette option, which can also be watched in one viewing from the main menu. The featurettes cover the making of the film’s nine main action sequences briefly from the points of view of the writers, director, composer, editor, Li, Statham and the English speaking stunt choreographer (Corey Yuen doesn’t get to add anything). The sections of each featurette are really short, a little repetitive, and consist of too much description of each scene or the script rather then the filmmaking process. The featurettes run a total of one hour and twelve minutes when strung together, but after one subtracts the film footage (much of which is repeated), it probably adds up to something more like forty-five minutes or less.
‘Scoring War’ is about…wait for it…scoring the movie War. The traditional symphony meets Asian percussion meets hip-hop score is one of the more impressive aspects of the film. It’s sort of reminiscent of the kind of percussive/symphonic scores that have been coming out of Hong Kong more recently, but with a slightly more Hollywood edge. Composer Brian Tyler is young, and his ‘one man band’ writing process is actually pretty interesting, but the nine minute featurette doesn’t make any mention of the supposed additional music by Dr. Dre and The RZA (though there is some mention during sections of ‘The War Chest’).
The ‘Gag Reel’ is charming, mostly because Li is charming. It’s followed by one extended scene and two deleted scenes, which are all character beats, total about two minutes, and were all rightfully deleted. Things wind up with a bunch of hi-def Lionsgate previews.
When you watch Jet Li kill a man with a hubcap, and you still just want the movie to be over, you know the movie is no fun. War is a bad movie, but not bad enough to be fun, and the final twist will probably make you want to drop kick you new Blu-ray player out the window (hey, at least it’d see some action that way). With so many other Yakuza and Triad action flicks on the market, many of them actually from Japan and Hong Kong, I don’t see any point in dealing with such bland retreading. The disc’s image quality is only average for the format, and the extras are plentiful but a bit weak (at least the ones I could get to work).
* Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray release.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian
Release Date: 1st January 1995
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: PCM 7.1 English, Dolby Digital 5.1 EX English
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish
Extras: 'The War Chest' - 9 Behind-the-Scenes Vignettes, Video/Audio Commentary with Director Philip G. Atwell, Audio Commentary with Writers Lee Anthony Smith and Gregory J. Bradley, 'Scoring War' Featurette, Gag Reel, Audio Trivia Track, Deleted/Extended Scenes
Easter Egg: No
Director: Philip G. Atwell
Cast: Jason Statham, Jet Li, Devon Aoki, John Lone, Saul Rubinek, Luis Guzman, Nadine Velazquez
Length: 103 minutes
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