Twilight of the Warriors: Walled In (2024)

Posted in Reviews by - May 18, 2024
Twilight of the Warriors: Walled In (2024)

Although Hong Kong action cinema might not be making waves the same way it did in the 1980s and 90s, there is still a rabble of filmmakers – people like Felix Chong, Herman Yau, Wilson Yip, and Soi Cheang – who continue to fly the flag for thrilling crime stories which are utterly unique to the territory. The latter, Soi Cheang (Mad Fate, Limbo, SPL II), continues his tradition of hardboiled, atmospheric, violent tales with this fight film – part triad revenge movie, part nostalgia fest, which recreates an iconic Hong Kong landmark, Kowloon’s infamous Walled City. In its lifetime, it was seen as a scourge to Hong Kong’s progressive reputation in the run-up to the Chinese handover, famously demolished in 1993 (an event captured in a Jackie Chan film, Crime Story), as well as being home to over 30,000 people, many of whom were refugees escaping from the mainland. Soi Cheang’s film – based on a comic book, City of Darkness by Yi Yu – is set in the mullet-wearing neon-lit nightlife of the 1980s and follows one such refugee, Chan Lok-kwan (Raymond Lam), who finds himself caught within the fabled Walled City after stealing from a drug gang, led by Mr. Big (Sammo Hung, on cigar-chomping bad guy duties) and his number two, the maniacal Wong Gau (Philip Ng, unhinged and having a blast). Once inside its claustrophobic confines – where daylight is rarely seen and the planes almost scrape the tops of the buildings – Lok discovers a rabbit-warren of degradation and squalor, lawlessness and vice, where police fear to tread and criminal gangs run riot. But he also finds solace, kinship, and a strong sense of community; a self-sufficient system of retail outlets, temples, barbershops, kitchens, and housing for old and young alike.

The self-imposed ruler of the Walled City is Cyclone (Louis Koo), an aged triad leader who is equally philosophical, philanthropic and powerful, capable of punching people so hard they fly across the room and crash into the furniture. In a seemingly benevolent act, he takes Lok-kwan under his wing, providing bed and board, and a home – and family – he never had. Lok-kwan’s loyalty is tested when a legacy feud involving Cyclone and a rival triad leader erupts, signalling a rather unfortunate story contrivance which doesn’t hold up to any form of scrutiny, but does at least set up a final act full of action-packed confrontations.

Older Hong Kong action fans will enjoy the inclusion of genre legends like Sammo Hung and Aaron Kwok, but it’s the younger leads who pull focus. The central quartet of Raymond Lam, Tony Wu, German Cheung and Terrance Lau form a good-looking ‘band of brothers’, suggesting that the future of Hong Kong fight films might well be in safe hands. Action director Kenji Tanigaki – visionary stalwart from the Donnie Yen school of hard knocks – stacks his choreography with more than a little magical realism, creating the sort of uncanny notes that, more often than not, jar with Soi Cheang’s grittier tone. Bodies defy gravity and are thrown hither and thither, while older characters – including Cyclone, who is meant to be dying of cancer – seemingly flip, kick and roll like teenage breakdancers. The strangest moments belong to Philip Ng, channelling Al Pacino’s Scarface in a very enjoyable display of histrionics, who possesses supernatural fighting skills as a master of ‘spiritual boxing’ (think Carter Wong in Born Invincible, or any number of classic kung fu movies), impervious to machete attacks and capable of punching through walls. This shift in tone might be too ridiculous for some viewers to stomach, particularly if you prefer the more grounded displays of stunt-fuelled pugilism in, say, Benny Chan’s excellent 2021 cop movie, Raging Fire. Of course the true star of the film is the Walled City itself, rendered excellently and captured with fervour and humanity by one of Hong Kong’s best directors.

Twilight of the Warriors: Walled In is released in UK and Irish cinemas from 24 May 2024 courtesy of Trinity CineAsia.

AKA: Kowloon Walled City.

This post was written by
Editor and creator of Kung Fu Movie Guide and the host of the Kung Fu Movie Guide Podcast. I live behind a laptop in London, UK.

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