WARRIORS OF FUTURE (明日战记) (NETFLIX) (2022)
SYNOPSIS: When a meteor carrying a destructive plant strikes the world, a suicide squad is given hours to save their post-apocalyptic city from total collapse.
Those of us who were wondering why no distributor had acquired the highest-grossing local movie in Hong Kong box office history for distribution in Singapore finally have our answer: none other than Netflix had bought the worldwide rights to the movie, in order to give it a global release that would allow it to be seen simultaneously by about 220 million subscribers across almost all the countries in the world.
As exciting as it must be to see its poster on billboards in New York, London, Tokyo and Taipei, such a high-signature move may not ultimately be in the best interests of the movie. Indeed, judged solely on its merit, ‘Warriors of Future’ is at best a competently made B-grade science fiction that provides decent dystopian entertainment for its brief 100-minute duration, and at worst a derivative entry that borrows too obviously from its genre predecessors such as ‘Alien’, ‘District 9’ and ‘Battle: Los Angeles’.
To appreciate ‘Warriors of Future’ for the achievement it is requires one to recognise how it represents a milestone for the Hong Kong film industry, which hitherto had not produced a film with such extensive visual effects. In order to build up that local capability, Louis Koo spent close to eight years developing the movie at his production house One Cool Film Production, patiently waiting to cultivate both the talent and technology to be able to pull off such a project entirely in Hong Kong (instead of outsourcing it to some visual effects studio in say South Korea).
It was in fact back in 2015 when we first heard about the hugely ambitious project with a reported HK$300 million price tag, and only in 2017 that we saw a teaser that was followed by yet another teaser each year thereafter for two years in a row, before a three-year silence when it went into lengthy post-production. That it wasn’t abandoned is itself worth celebrating, and the fact that it isn’t a flop is perhaps the greatest relief to those rooting for Koo’s passion project. Notwithstanding this, it is probably prudent to keep your expectations in check.
Despite enlisting veteran screenwriters Lau Ho-leung and Mak Tin-shu, the story is as threadbare as it gets. The prologue is fairly intriguing, painting a world ravaged by global warming and climate change that depends on large man-made domes known as Skynets to keep the air habitable. After a meteorite crashes into district B16, a giant alien plant emerges from it, destroying everything within its path as it advances with rainfall, but ironically purifying the polluted air. Alas the narrative comes down simply to an elite air combat team’s race-against-time to inject a gene solution into the plant’s pistil before an imminent rainstorm, while having to contend against being undermined in the field by one of their own.
The characters here are just as spare. The only notable ones are Tyler (Koo) and Johnson (Sean Lau), who team up with a disgraced former buddy Skunk (Philip Keung), to retrieve the solution from where the transport aircraft carrying it crashed after being sabotaged, and then injecting it into the pistil located in the heart of Hong Kong’s Central district before the rainstorm. Besides Tyler and Skunk’s fallout told through flashbacks, there is hardly any consequential character development. Though Carina Lau, Tse Kwan-ho and Nick Cheung are also billed, their supporting roles are even thinner, and end up being no better than glorified cameos.
What ‘Warriors of Future’ does have in its favour are a number of set-pieces that boast the inspiration of director Ng Yuen-fai’s detailed storyboarding with the ingenuity of Jack Wong Wai-leung’s action choreography. From the first doomed mission, to an intense battle against ferocious mantis-like aliens in a deserted hospital, to a highway chase against a pair of killer androids, and finally to a mano-a-mano against the same robots, the action is impressively slick; in particular, Ng’s mix of propulsive and slo-mo camerawork, combined with some cool tracking shots, keep the visuals engaging and even exhilarating in parts.
Credit must also go to the props team, especially in the design of the mecha suits worn by Tyler and Johnson, which hold their own against the heavily-armed androids. We should say too that the technical achievements all round deserve to be lauded – including the creature effects and an apocalyptic Hong Kong – especially considering how these capabilities were built up over the span of slightly less than a decade. Seen against similar sci-fi efforts like Wong Jing’s ‘Future X-Cops’, this is a big leap forward for Hong Kong cinema.
Like we said therefore, ‘Warriors of Future’ needs to be appreciated as a milestone achievement for the industry. Its isn’t the best Hong Kong film by any measure, but it opens up possibilities apart from the usual action, cop/triad and comedy genres. It is also fortunate that Koo has enlisted Lau for this venture; as one of the most dependable character actors and Koo’s regular screen partners, Lau elevates the material few other actors would be able to. So yes do make time to catch it at Netflix when you can, but keep your expectation in check, and remember that it is ultimately a bet for the future of Hong Kong cinema..
Review by Gabriel Chong