Thursday, June 13, 2024

“TWILIGHT OF THE WARRIORS: WALLED IN”

THE STORY – Follows troubled youth Chan Lok-kwun as he accidentally enters the Walled City, discovers the order amidst its chaos, and learns important life lessons along the way.

THE CAST – Louis Koo, Sammo Hung, Richie Jen, Raymond Lam, Terrance Lau, Kenny Wong, Philip Ng, Tony Wu & German Cheung

THE TEAM – Soi Cheang (Director), Tai Lee Chan, Chun Lai, Kwan Sin Shum & Kin Yee Au (Writers)

THE RUNNING TIME – 126 Minutes


This year’s Cannes Film Festival seems to be the saving grace for projects that have been stuck in developmental hell for decades. “Twilight of the Warriors: Walled In” is an example of such a film, whose entire production has evolved on multiple occasions since its conceptualization in the 2000s. Adapted from Andy Seto’s manga, “City of Darkness,” director Soi Cheang’s neo-noir action feature represents a story of brotherhood, which sees an immigrant form unexpected familial bonds with crime lords in the slums of 1980s Kowloon Walled City. Cheang recreates British Hong Kong with beautiful detail and captures the essence of the real-life enclave full of refugees, low-income families, and even gang members. The end result is a stunning homage to 80s martial arts and a high-octane thriller with emotional undertones built on great chemistry and a call for unity.

In the opening sequences of “Twilight of the Warriors: Walled In,” Cheang treats us to a mini history lesson on the “City of Darkness.” With violent brawl outbreaks and a rise in gang activity, Kowloon is the only place in Hong Kong where British law does not apply. In comes illegal migrant Chan Lok-kwun (Raymond Lam), a down-and-out refugee who spends every minute in survival mode. After the death of his mother at a young age, Lok has spent years in and out of foster homes until a sudden tragedy forced him to become homeless. To make ends meet, Lok has turned to street fighting. His goal is to save up enough money to buy a fake ID card from Mr. Big, a local crime syndicate boss played by the ever-charming force of nature, Sammo Hung. When the deal goes south, Lok steals drugs from Mr. Big’s triad and unknowingly flees to the Walled City. A seemingly safe haven for Lok, the territory is ruled by the local boss Cyclone (Louis Koo) and is off-limits for Mr. Big’s clan.

At first glance, Lok has stumbled upon another gang-occupied zone, where his fight for survival comes as a challenge. However, Cyclone is more than meets the eye. He runs his province like a benevolent ruler, ensuring everyone works hard yet has a place to sleep and food to eat. On some level, the screenplay welcomes admiration for Cyclone as he rules his territory with objectivity and a hint of compassion. Even Cyclone’s goons begin to warm up to Lok, and a tight-knit friendship emerges. Here, Cheang showcases an emerging brotherhood that reels the audience into their world, even though it circulates around crime. He’s also careful, though—to not glorify gang activity. Instead, Cheang and company welcome safe masculinity by seizing the opportunity to conceptualize bonding over circumstance as a natural survival tactic for migrants.

Ultimately, Cyclone and Mr. Big’s gangs do meet again, resulting in action-packed sequences full of blood, violence, and striking fight choreography. As the film is adapted after a manga, you can certainly pinpoint the moments where they lean into the fantastical. The film often taps into cheesy territory and mostly embraces its silliness when the script calls for it, a feature that is an added benefit over an annoyance. Throughout, Cheang gives every cast member their chance to shine, with Dik Chau (Richie Jen), Lok (Lam), Shin (Terrance Lau), and AV (German Cheung) as the standouts. Philip Ng’s Wong Gau, Mr. Big’s main commander, provided the comedic relief within the script. His cackle, alone, is enough to make one chuckle, and he’s got killer moves too. The only glaring issue is the unexplained spiritual magic that renders him invulnerable—a component likely taken directly from the manga.

The success of Cheang’s action thriller comes with outstanding technical achievements from beginning to end. Aside from the visual replication of the Kowloon Walled City, the film contains sound design and mixing that are simple reasons enough to experience it, as the clatter reminds us why action films like these are so special. In nearly every action sequence, glass breaks, a body gets thrown across the room, and the surrounding metals within the slums shatter to give an explosive, sonic indication that the stakes have arrived. But they don’t just arrive; they come somersaulting with brutal intensity. Cheang, with his direction, and Chun Hin Yiu, with the sound design, work together to facilitate an experience that is fully operational in captivating all your senses.

It’s hard not to celebrate “Twilight of the Warriors: Walled In.” As a whole, a film that once struggled in developmental purgatory is now ready for the masses to enjoy. Thanks to an amazing team of screenwriters and actors, Cheang’s film is an impressive manga adaptation that could easily find its way into the hearts of film lovers for several reasons. A classic story about humanity, immigrant unity, and brotherhood, the film’s narratives have been told on numerous occasions but with varying levels of quality. Cheang and company balance it all with heart, soul, and humor in easily relatable ways and with dazzling execution. This homage to 1980s martial arts action thrillers may have been 20 years in the making, but it comes at the right time to deliver a heartful and persuasive message about joining forces in the name of human survival.

THE RECAP

THE GOOD - Sio Cheang directs a soulful love letter to 1980s martial arts action thrillers. Accompanied by a superb sound design, he delivers a fascinating manga adaptation to enable a heightened viewing experience full of emotion, humor, and soul.

THE BAD - At times, the script can lean into cheesy territory given its incorporation of manga/comic book-inspired fight choreography and dialogue.

THE OSCAR PROSPECTS - None

THE FINAL SCORE - 8/10

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<b>THE GOOD - </b>Sio Cheang directs a soulful love letter to 1980s martial arts action thrillers. Accompanied by a superb sound design, he delivers a fascinating manga adaptation to enable a heightened viewing experience full of emotion, humor, and soul.<br><br> <b>THE BAD - </b>At times, the script can lean into cheesy territory given its incorporation of manga/comic book-inspired fight choreography and dialogue.<br><br> <b>THE OSCAR PROSPECTS - </b>None<br><br> <b>THE FINAL SCORE - </b>8/10<br><br>"TWILIGHT OF THE WARRIORS: WALLED IN"