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War Reviews

Once an Olympic diver and a model for the French Connection clothing line, Jason Statham has evolved into the dependable star of a particular brand of guilty pleasure: bare-knuckled, ultra-violent smack-downs like THE TRANSPORTER movies and the utterly out-of-control CRANK. This gangland bloodbath, originally titled ROGUE, is more of exactly what his fans have come to expect. On a rainy night on the San Francisco waterfront, a gun battle erupts between two FBI agents and the gang of Japanese yakuza whom they've been trailing for over two years. Special Agent Jack Crawford (Statham) suspects the group's ringleader is Rogue, a shadowy Japanese assassin who is rumored to have once worked for the CIA until he turned on three of his fellow agents. Crawford's partner, Tom Lone (Terry Chen), thinks the story is all just Agency legend. Lone chases the gunman down and shoots him in the face just before he tumbles into the San Francisco Bay. The body is never recovered, and Lone is certain that Rogue -- or whoever he was -- is dead. Three days later, a masked assassin enters Lone's house and attacks Lone, his wife (Steph Song) and their young child (Annika Foo). By the time Crawford arrives, the house has burned to the ground with three murdered bodies inside. The killer, however, has left a clue: a depleted uranium bullet in a titanium shell -- Rogue's trademark. What was once a job to take down a dangerous killer has now become for Crawford a personal mission to avenge his partner's death. Three years later, a nightclub in the yakuza district of San Francisco is attacked by a single gunman who butchers most of the Japanese gangsters inside. Crawford is baffled by the mayhem, until he finds a tell-tale titanium casing among the rubble. Rogue is alive, and apparently now working against the Yakuza. Meanwhile, age-old tensions between Tokyo's powerful yakuza boss Mr. Shiro (Ryo Ishibashi) and Chinese Triad leader Mr. Chang (John Lone) have suddenly begun to escalate. Thirty years earlier, Mr. Shiro slaughtered members of the Chang family and stole many of its treasures, including a pair of golden horse statuettes that are now on en route to California for sale under the cold, watchful eye of Shiro's homicidal daughter, Kira (Devon Aoki). Mr. Chang has hired Rogue (Jet Li) to steal the horses back, but it soon becomes clear that Rogue is playing both sides against the middle, and it's up to Crawford to figure out why. It's a complicated plot, but one that leaves plenty of room for everything a fan could want: gunplay, swordfights, brutal mano a mano fisticuffs, motorcycle races, car chases, Japanese gangsters eating sushi off of topless women, and that old standby, a decapitated head in a box. The movie is so devoted to action that scenes in which Crawford -- a sensitive guy who'll kindly dig a piece of shrapnel out of a bad guy's shoulder with his thumb -- attempts to deal with his martial problems stops the movie cold. There's a solid 11th hour twist, and even though the split-second edits undercut Corey Yuen's fight choreography, it all looks pretty good, and delivers exactly what it promises.