When ruthless hitman Rogue slaughters an FBI agent and his family, the dead man’s partner, Jack Crawford, vows revenge. After three years of hunting shadows, Crawford is no closer to his prey but remains obsessed with the chase. Despite having driven away his wife and son. When Rogue finally resurfaces as a gunman for San Francisco’s Triads. Crawford leaps at the chance to take down his nemesis.
The movie tells the seemingly straight-forward story of FBI agent John Crawford (Jason Statham), who’s spent the last three years of his career hunting the notorious Chinese assassin Rogue (Jet Li or Ly Lien Kiet), who killed his partner. When Crawford is assigned to lead the FBI’s Asia Crime Task Force, he finally gains access to the resources needed to conduct a proper manhunt, and soon learns the assassin has returned to the States in an attempt to turn two local Triad and Yakuza gangs against each other. As a dangerous conflict in the criminal underworld threatens to spiral out of control, Crawford works to uncover the assassin’s motives and bring him to justice.
War (Cuoc Chien Khoc Liet) does a good job melding Statham’s rough-n-tumble action-flick sensibilities with the grace and fluidity of Li’s Eastern martial arts. The two actors create nicely contrasting characters, with Li employing a calm, soft spoken demeanor to hide his viciousness, and Statham playing Crawford as a loose canon with a volatile temper. It’s these characterizations that make the third act twist so brilliant. Rather than feeling tacked on, the twist relies on the subtle personalities Li and Statham have developed from the beginning. Without realizing it, my instincts were sensing the nature of the twist long before it was even revealed. By the time the credits rolled, I felt I had misjudged the movie, and went back to give it another look.
Unfortunately, a second viewing only highlighted the problems that had bothered me the first time around. The most obvious issue is the script’s cringe-inducing dialogue. Making matters worse, the supporting cast is full of exaggerated cliches that action fans like myself have long grown tired of (including the petite hard-hitting Asian chick, the rebellious gangster who can’t leave well enough alone, and the furrow-browed warrior in the three-piece suit). The ultimate twist may reveal the dual nature of Li and Jason Statham‘s characters, but it doesn’t offset the film’s lack of compelling emotional drama — every scene feels like little more than the setup for the next chase or fight scene.
To be fair, film fans less concerned with character arcs and story development may have fewer nitpicks than I did. I appreciated the action scenes, the fights, and the third act twist. But while these elements elevate the film above the usual dreck, it could still have been a lot better.
Unfortunately, the picture suffers from inconsistencies that manifest in a variety of ways. Foreground objects look harsh and artificially sharpened at times, while background elements seem soft and poorly defined. Depth frequently fluctuates, with quite a few shots appearing flat and lifeless. Detail also suffers, at times changing from one shot to the next within the same scene. To top it all off, I noted obvious compression artifacts on more than one occasion, tarnishing the visual experience. Considering this is a new film, I can’t help but be disappointed with the results.
Say what you will about the movie and the picture quality, the audio package on this release is outstanding. Lionsgate has delivered a thundering PCM 7.1 surround track that literally shook my home theater. Dynamics kick things into overdrive with powerful LFE pulses that compliment the track’s crystal clear, high-end fidelity. Dialogue is clean and well-prioritized across the front speakers. While the surrounds offer a litany of ambient support that crafts an immersive soundfield. Even the film’s music is a compelling part of the experience. With the soundtrack’s rap songs integrated into the soundfield to completely envelop the listener.