Warriors Two (1978)
Reviewed by: ewaffle on 2005-11-09
Summary: A masterpiece
It is almost impossible to find anything wrong with “Warriors Two”, so I won’t try. But it is much more than a movie in which there are no obvious problems—“Warriors Two” is an outstanding kung fu film which pulls together all the conventions of the genre and uses them in both traditional and startlingly new ways.

Many of the unifying themes of Hong Kong martial arts cinema, including the importance of martial arts in the everyday life of the Chinese people and complete loyalty and commitment, even in the face of death, to one’s community or group, are present in “Warriors Two”. What sets it apart from other films of its genre and era is its austere storyline, its economy of character, the uniformly excellent performances from everyone on screen and the extraordinarily high level of fight choreography and execution. The movie is divided into three parts and each part is characterized by increasingly violent depictions of martial arts. The first one is shown under the opening credits and has Master Tsang practicing Wing Chun in a bamboo forest while setting the scene for the action to come. The demonstration is stylized, abstract and refined. The second is the first formal application of Wing Chun, in the training of Cashier Wah. Here the style is much rougher, appropriate for an apprentice learning from a master and slowly growing in confidence and competence. The third is during the extended finale, in which the student is tested in the searing crucible of battle. The action is brutal, merciless, unrelenting and breathtakingly exciting and it refers to and parallels terms and images from the earlier portrayals of kung fu. This three part parallel construction defines the structure of the movie and keeps both the characters and action in service to presenting the themes and furthering the plot.

Wing Chun kung fu is at the heart of the movie. It features small, almost spare movements of (especially) the hands and a very structured set of blocks, parries and other defensive maneuvers. The “Sticky Hands” move, which combines defense to immobilize the opponent with the lightning quick ability to strike him, was emphasized during several key points of the action and helped to make the action scenes more than just fighting but the defense of a noble way of life.

Unlike most films of its type, “Warriors Two” has no extraneous characters or plot points. There is comic relief but the comedy is provided by the main characters. There are no subplots that are introduced simply to fill out the running time of the film but that aren’t developed. The acting is restrained where necessary and over the top where necessary and everyone onscreen is fit, skilled and credible as a fighter, even Dean Shek who plays the evil and partially crippled Master Yao. Casanova Wong is not as his absolute best during the scenes which depict Wing Chun as such, but excels in more flamboyant kicks and sweeping moves. Leung Kar Yan is perfect in almost every way. Even the aging hair and make-up treatment he is given works well enough. His Master Tsang is heroic in battle but kind, trusting and self-effacing otherwise—which leads to his downfall. Tsang is a true master—he is loyal to his subordinates and always carries himself with gravitas and nobility. His fights, especially his final battle, are realistic and inspiring. While one may quibble with the introduction of a very shiny bear trap, even that seemingly cartoonish prop works in its context. Dean Shek’s Master Yao is a character you love to hate. The clerk is effete and vicious, depending on more powerful men and eager to serve them. That his not insignificant martial arts capability is hidden by his crippled leg underlines his capacity for deception and betrayal.

The quartet of villains seems invincible—which they must in order to make the heroes properly heroic. One exceptional touch is the deadly spear carried by Tiger. It is highlighted in several close-ups to show its razor sharp blades and finely honed point—the spear is almost a separate villain itself. The man behind it all, Master Mo, is a former robber who now runs the only bank in town—most likely an extremely unsubtle reference to the money-lending class—and who wants political as well as economic power. Tiger, Thunder and Iron Fist are his henchmen—each of them is evil, powerful and deadly and need only the brains and confidence of Mo, their former leader, to make them into a powerful force.

This is Sammo Hung’s movie, of course. His onscreen presence is (for him) understated and subtle—since he was both director and fight choreographer he didn’t have to worry about stealing scenes. The action scenes are astonishing, each building to a climax that, while the audience knows how it must end, is still a shock when it does. He directed the uncluttered script economically and precisely and got excellent performances from all the actors—allowing the audience to really care about the people onscreen, to emotionally invest in them without fear of being short changed. One of the joys of Hong Kong cinema, which Sammo uses quite well, is the anxiety or uncertainty the spectators have almost to the very last shot, they don’t know who will be dead or alive when the final credits role.

Highly recommended.
Reviewer Score: 9