The Movie Waffler New Release Review - TWILIGHT OF THE WARRIORS: WALLED IN | The Movie Waffler


Twilight of the Warriors: Walled In review
A young immigrant finds himself at the centre of a gang war in 1980s Hong Kong's infamous Kowloon Walled City.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Soi Cheang

Starring: Raymond Lam, Terrance Lau, Tony Wu, German Cheung, Louis Koo, Philip Ng, Aaron Kwok, Sammo Hung

Twilight of the Warriors: Walled In poster

Andy Seto's Chinese comic book 'City of Darkness' was initially set for a movie adaptation two decades ago with directors John Woo and Johnnie To primed for a Hong Kong auteur super-duo collaboration. Despite having talent like Chow Yun-fat, Andy Lau, Tony Leung, Nicolas Cage and James McAvoy on board, that version never saw the light of day. Neither did a later adaptation set to star Donnie Yen. Now, with director Soi Cheang at the helm, Seto's comic has finally made it to screens under the rather cumbersome title Twilight of the Warriors: Walled In.

The movie is set in a place that genuinely existed in the past - Kowloon's "Walled City" - but it's a setting right out of many a dystopian sci-fi movie. The Walled City was an infamous shanty town in Hong Kong that saw tens of thousands of residents, mostly immigrants and refugees, crammed into what was then the most densely populated place on the planet. Crime was rife with rival Triad gangs warring over control of the area until it was demolished in 1994.

Twilight of the Warriors: Walled In review

Cheang portrays the Walled City like it's a section of Mega City One from the Judge Dredd comic, a collection of neon-lit, rickety businesses and abodes rising so high that passing planes threaten to scrape its peak, all exposed cables and girders. It's within these cramped walls that our hero, Chan (Raymond Lam), seeks refuge. A recently arrived undocumented migrant from the Chinese mainland, Chan fights in underground bare-knuckle bouts in the hopes of raising enough cash to pay for a fake Hong Kong ID. In the process he makes an enemy of not so imaginatively titled gang boss Mr. Big (Sammo Hung), which sees him chased by Big's goons through the streets until he hides in the Walled City, where even Mr. Big's mob dare not follow.

Within the Walled City Chan initially makes new enemies of local mobsters but is taken under the wing of Cyclone (Louis Koo), an aging mob boss who takes a suspiciously paternal interest in the young immigrant. Set to work performing various odd jobs, Chan makes new friends and finds what he's been looking for all his life in this unlikely place - a home. But his presence escalates already existing tensions between Cyclone, Mr. Big and another mobster, Chau (Richie Jen), to whom the residents of the Walled City pay rent. Needless to say, it all leads to a whole lot of ass-whuppin'.

Twilight of the Warriors: Walled In review

Though set specifically in the '80s, Twilight of the Warriors plays like a tribute to the past 40 years of Hong Kong action cinema. The supernatural wuxia and martial arts elements are straight out of the '80s while the internecine mob drama has more in common with the shift away from comic book fantasy Hong Kong genre cinema would take in subsequent decades. It's like Tsui Hark, Jackie Chan and Johnnie To all got together to make the ultimate Hong Kong action movie, and it makes for a surprisingly tasty mashup. The result isn't the ultimate Hong Kong action movie, but it's an ideal introduction to the genre cinema of this corner of the world as it encompasses all of its distinctive facets.

It's essential to keep in mind that you're watching a comic book movie rather than anything grounded in reality as you'll be blindsided by some of the film's wilder swings otherwise. The shift in tones is sometimes jarring here as Cheang struggles to balance the film's more quotidian elements with its fantasy ingredients. When one villain (played with evil relish by Philip Ng), suddenly reveals he possesses a supernatural ability to shield himself from attack, you simply have to accept that this is where the movie is headed now. So much time has been invested in establishing the To-esque mob stuff that some viewers may be unwilling to follow Cheang as his film descends into over-the-top madness. Personally, I found the mob drama a little too soapy in its conceits, so I was more than happy when the movie morphed into something resembling the climax of Big Trouble in Little China.

Twilight of the Warriors: Walled In review

The film benefits greatly from a charismatic cast, with Lam perfectly embodying the wide-eyed newcomer and Hung and Ng chewing scenery as the film's decidedly comic book villains. It's the aged-up Koo who quietly dominates the movie as the sort of badass who lets you know he's not to be messed with without having to utter a single word. His introduction, involving a display of reflexes that allows him to kick someone's ass and catch the cigarette that fell from his mouth before it hits the ground, is one of those moments that will have action fans immediately onboard.

Twilight of the Warriors is a comic book movie in a way Hollywood comic book movies haven't been for a long time. It's not afraid to look silly and delivers a series of larger than life heroes and villains ripped from colourful splash pages and embodied by a cast that understands the job at hand. Watching Ng laugh maniacally as he breaks swords in half with his teeth, you can't help but wonder why Hollywood consistently refuses to give us movies that are this much fun. Amid all the bone-crunching and back-breaking, there's an adorably goofy innocence embodied by the use of an instrumental version of charity shop compilation LP staple 'Walking in the Air' over a montage. No Hollywood movie would make this musical choice because it wouldn't be considered "cool" enough. But it works a treat here. I'm glad there are still parts of the world where filmmakers are more interested in having fun than seeming cool.

Twilight of the Warriors: Walled In
 is in UK/ROI cinemas from May 24th.

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