Like so many Hollywood action flicks, Warriors of Future (明日戰記) impresses with its energy and action but is let down by a poor story.
Warriors of Future (明日戰記) Synopsis
Earth’s atmosphere is utterly toxified by pollution and warfare, but salvation descended from the sky in the form of Pandora, a massive alien plant capable of purifying air. However, Pandora grows monstrously when doused with water, a trait that quickly results in it being mankind’s next apocalyptic threat. To control Pandora, a special task force is dispatched to infect the alien with a virus. If successful, the virus will permanently remove the plant’s ability to grow with water.
This was an interesting watch. Interesting not just because sci-fi is a rarity in Chinese/Cantonese cinema, but also because this environmental disaster flick took over eight years to complete.
First announced in May 2015, Warriors of Future is Hong Kong actor and producer Louis Koo’s … how to put it … very devoted attempt to create Asian sci-fi. (Or more accurately, Cantonese sci-fi) What’s unusual is that though the movie ended up needing nearly a decade to complete, there wasn’t any high-profile fallout or scandalous hiccups over the years. Koo’s One Cool Film Production simply took that long to finish the project because, as the man himself says, they did all the CGI themselves without foreign expertise.
Yup, it took so long because Koo’s firm did most things “in house.” If you can read Chinese/Cantonese, though, you might get a different story. Some HK sites claim One Cool Film was almost bankrupted by the project. A rather hysterical site that I found insisted the man himself suffered multiple breakdowns over the years too. About these claims, all I can say is that I haven’t been able to find any meaningful proof, at all.
Coming to the actual movie, Warriors of Future was released in Hong Kong in August 2022, and very quickly, went on to become the highest-grossing HK movie of all time. Critical reviews, however, have been mixed and what’s unusual is that both Western and Eastern critics are saying the exact same thing.
The effects are great. The movie is also evidence that Hong Kong cinema is ready for big-budget sci-fi sagas.
The story, on the other hand, needs more work and refinement. As in, a lot, a lot more work and refinement.
I entirely agree with these reviews.
The effects indeed impress, and I don’t mean that in a “it was a praiseworthy effort” kind of way. Mask the Chinese faces and mute the dialogue and I would assume this is a major Hollywood production. Warriors of Future moreover incorporates the best of Hong Kong cinematic action – dizzying (police) indoor pursuits, heroic bloodshed, kinetic kung-fu sequences, and even explosive road chases.
Excessively chaotic as the action sometimes is, MCU-inspired as some elements clearly are, I was blown away. As a Chinese albeit one not from Hong Kong, I felt “proud” too that “my people” could produce something like this.
As for the story, I would put it as, way too much work was put in. We are talking about everything under the genre being thrown into the oversized bag here. From an environmental apocalypse to a sinister conspiracy, to unscrupulous commercialism, to alien invasions, to mecha, to PTSD, to even, my goodness, some sort of discussion about AI reliability. Just what is the anchor theme? What is the base premise?
The insipid dialogue makes everything worse too. As I watched the show on Netflix, I was able to toggle between languages. Let me just say, all sounded terrible. The English dub was a real throwback to cheesy 80s B-movies; some Schwarzenegger shows have better lines. The Chinese track was a notch better, but still without any one line worth remembering.
The Cantonese track was surprisingly the worst and part of this has to do with the language itself.
It truly pains me to say this but my native tongue is clearly still unsuitable for science fiction. I mean, in English movies, we have many so stylized terms for fighting robots – mecha, battlesuits, mobile units, etc, on top of all sorts of exotic acronyms. (Such names add colour to any story) In this movie, they simply call it gei haai jan, the oldest and most uninspirational Cantonese noun for robots. I assumed the scriptwriters had to do so because there’s just no other word that would make easy sense to a Cantonese speaker.
During certain dialogues, I also get the distinct feeling that the actors were all trying not to snicker, because the lines were soooooo awkward. So unlike what’s said in vernacular or even formal Cantonese. In fact, some lines were so bad, I almost stopped watching at the half-hour point. Luckily, that was when the action began in earnest. When they started referring to the machines with names instead of insipid-sounding nouns too.
To sum up, I think Warriors of Future is still a worthy watch despite its storytelling flaws. An ambitious production that presses all the right buttons for viewers purely interested in action and thrills.
Messy as the story is, well, it’s a start. Probably a good tutorial and reference point for the Hong Kong movie industry too. Fingers crossed that the next big budget HK sci-fi saga will be more austere with the tale, as well as take lesser years to complete.
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