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War
cast: Jet Li, Jason Statham, John Lone, Devon Aoki, and Saul Rubinek

director: Philip Atwell

99 minutes (18) 2006
widescreen ratio 16:9
Lions Gate DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 8/10
reviewed by Alasdair Stuart
FBI agents Jack Crawford (Jason Statham) and Tom Lone (Terry Chen) are veterans of the organised crime taskforce, years of their careers spent on taking down the Chinese triads. But during a shootout, the pair find themselves face-to-face with an urban myth: Rogue (Jet Li). The bogeyman of organised crime, Rogue is a ghost, a savagely effective assassin who, rumour has it, was a CIA asset until he broke free and who now works for the highest bidder. But even legends can die, as Lone shoots and apparently kills the assassin seconds before he can kill his partner. The pair survive, and their lives, dysfunctional and driven by work as they are, continue. Until Tom Lone and his entire family are murdered by a man who should be dead...

Years later, Jack Crawford's life has fallen apart. He's abandoned his son and wife, living only for his work and even then for one objective; to find Rogue and kill him once and for all. The only problem is, Crawford may be about to get exactly what he wants...

Largely panned on release this is a very odd, eccentric little action movie. The presence of Li is the first real example of this, as we barely see him for the first half hour. Initially, this plays like a really good, early 1990s' action movie with the sort of unforced, genuinely funny banter between Crawford and Lone that the later Lethal Weapon movies wished they could have achieved.

But then, Lone's family are killed, the film skips ahead a few years and things get a lot stranger. Initially sold as, effectively, a punch-fest, this is actually closer in tone to something like the Vin Diesel vehicle A Man Alone, of a few years ago. Statham, previously required to be either intimidating or charming based on the role (both attributes, it should be noted, he has in abundance) is here called upon to play, in essence, a broken man and he rises to the occasion surprisingly well. There's nothing romantic or likable about Jack Crawford, just a man who is completely shut off by his own choice and who finds himself on a path that, realistically, can only end in one place.

That being said, the film's been sold, pretty clearly on the thought of a Li versus Statham fight, and the fact that it doesn't deliver that until the final moments is sure to irritate some action fans. Despite this, there's a lot to enjoy, with Li's coldly efficient, detached killer memorably dispatching an entire room of thugs using only a guard dog, and hacking his way through numerous hapless goons with the maximum efficiency and minimum effort. The semi-climactic swordfight is also fantastic, and is choreographed in such a way that for once, the two men involved are portrayed pretty clearly as equals. There's a genuine sense of danger to it that ties into the film's oddest point and the exact nature of Rogue himself that you wouldn't find anywhere else.

Ultimately, that's both the film's biggest asset and greatest flaw. Without giving anything away, the events of the third reel cast a very different perspective on the events of the first two, and the end result is a pleasingly subversive and remarkably coherent piece of action cinema. However, the nature of the genre means that surprises are frequently less than welcome and many fans may be irritated by the bait and switch.

If you're in the mood for something smart, unusual and with a genuinely impressive quotient of punches per square inch, then War (aka: Rogue Assassin) is for you.
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