Chinese cinema superstar Andy Lau most recently wire fu'd his way across screens as the rakishly charming Detective Dee. But there's nothing at all appealing (at first) about the performer's maniacal military man in Benny Chan's diverting yet lightweight martial-arts epic. Lau's General Hou Jie is one mean sumbitch: brazenly riding into Dengfeng, China's famed monastery-cum-combat-training-school to kill an enemy warlord, dressing down his second-in-command, Cao Man (Tse), and plotting the death of a military rival so his power will be unchallenged. But the general's spittle-flecked dreams of domination are dashed when Cao Man stages a bloody coup.
Having lost everything, the humbled Hou returns to the monastery, where he makes like post-Ike Tina Turner and devotes himself to Buddhism. It's an unconvincing character turn---visualized via a number of what-have-I-done-with-my-life close-ups and some pensive wax-on-wax-off training montages. But then comes the good stuff: a series of spectacularly filmed action sequences that pit our newly enlightened protagonist and his bamboo-wielding brethren against Cao Man and his destructive forces. Fists fly furiously and much blood is spilled; there's a sacrifice via sword that's both cringe-inducing and cheerworthy. Even special guest star Jackie Chan gets in on the fun with a hilarious bit of food-jitsu. It's almost enough to make you forget that this entertainingly hollow film is populated entirely with toy soldiers.
Follow Keith Uhlich on Twitter: @keithuhlich
Watch the trailer