Hong Kong Sci-fi Film ‘Warriors of Future’ Is Thrilling but Trite

Hong Kong Sci-fi Film ‘Warriors of Future’ Is Thrilling but Trite

Released on Netflix on December 2, the sci-fi blockbuster ‘Warriors of Future’ recently became the highest-grossing Chinese-language film of all time in Hong Kong

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Amarsanaa Battulga
6:27 PM HKT, Thu December 8, 2022 4 mins read

Since the release of the box office sensation The Wandering Earth (2019) and the spectacular flop that was Shanghai Fortress (2019), there has been a dearth of Chinese-language sci-fi disaster movies. However, this void has recently been filled by Warriors of Future, a Hong Kong-Chinese mainland co-production starring big-name Hong Kong actors Louis Koo (also the film’s producer) and Lau Ching Wan.

The film is the directorial debut of visual effects specialist Ng Yuen-fai, and it hit cinemas on the Chinese mainland back in August — well over half a decade since its initial teaser trailer was released in 2015. Since hitting silver screens, Warriors of Future has raked in a hefty 100 million USD.

Good news for all you couch potatoes, though: the film is now available on Netflix.

Warriors of Future, which opened this year’s Hong Kong International Film Festival, is set in a CGI-laden doomsday version of Hong Kong. The year is 2055, and the world is ravaged by environmental catastrophe and international warfare. Humankind lives under large protective domes, and their future is hanging by a thread.

A meteorite crashes down in District B-16 (formerly known as Hong Kong), and viewers soon discover it contains a giant alien vine. Code named Pandora, the destructive plant rapidly grows when it comes into contact with water. There’s a catch, however: It also purifies the hazardous air and offers a glimmer of hope at making Earth habitable again outside the domes.

Just as a torrential downpour threatens millions of lives, the military devises a virus that has the potential to stop Pandora’s growth while leaving its purifying powers intact. So best buddies Tyler (Koo) and Johnson (Lau) gear up in their exoskeleton suits and set off to deliver the payload that contains the magic cure before it’s too late.

Warriors of the Future Chinese sci-fi

Seven years in the making, Koo’s dream project is full of sound and fury. With plenty of slow-motion scenes and first-person, point-of-view shots, the video game aesthetic of the film is thoroughly enjoyable, if a bit tiresome towards the end. The special effects have been credited to the same team behind Frant Gwo’s 2019 cinematic adaptation of author Liu Cixin’s 2000 novella The Wandering Earth.

Marketed in the Chinese mainland as ‘China’s first mecha hard sci-fi film,Warriors of Future is also a movie with very local characteristics. For instance, two robots in the film — Xingtian and Qiongqi — are named after mythological figures from the ancient Chinese text The Classic of Mountains and Seas. Look out for a heart-stopping chase scene featuring said robots.

Unfortunately, the film’s spectacle far exceeds its substance. Originality is utterly absent in the bare-bones plot. Audiences and critics have identified nearly 20 sci-fi epics, including Avatar and District 9, that the filmmaker has tapped for ideas.

The alien vine that has the potential to either eradicate or save humanity is an interesting idea related to climate change and human-caused destruction. Still, the storyline only toys with the concept instead of exploring it.

Given the long duration spent on the production, audiences understandably had higher expectations. The film has a mediocre score of 6.4 on Douban, a Chinese platform that’s been likened to IMDb. One user wrote, “The most difficult thing in science fiction is not the special effects but the script.”

According to IMDb, the original version of the Warriors of Future has a 112-minute running time. However, the film was edited to 99 minutes to get approval from the Chinese mainland’s film bureau. The current running time on Netflix is 101 minutes — about the same as the version shown in Hong Kong and the Chinese mainland. Perhaps these lost minutes could have lent more body to the thin plot.

Some moviegoers were quick to note the story’s ‘Hong Kong characteristics.’ Towards the start of the film, Tyler and Johnson realize that they have a problem beyond Pandora; like in many classic Hong Kong movies, there is also a mole among their ranks who’s keen to leave the air toxic since some stand to benefit from the construction of the dome.

A review with 2,600 likes has summarized the plot in two succinct sentences: “There’s a mole. Stop transaction,” and “Give up, Joe!” These popular lines-turned-memes hail from two classics of Hong Kong cinema: the crime thriller Infernal Affairs (2002), which was later remade as the Oscar-winning American film The Departed, and New Police Story (2004) starring Jackie Chan.

Warriors of the Future Chinese sci-fi

Other viewers found a timely allegory within the film. “When facing ‘an opportunity for humanity,’ the biggest enemy of the Coexistence sect is not alien plants, but the members of the Dome sect, who only care about their own political achievements,” pointed out one Douban user.

The 100 million USD takings may seem significant, but the tally is somewhat disappointing for a mega-budget production that took 56 million USD and seven years to make. And, financially speaking, things might have been much worse if Koo had not resorted to some desperate (and super-cringe) marketing strategies.

The producer, who gained fame from starring in TV dramas and rom-coms, has a sizeable fanbase in the Chinese-speaking world and wasn’t shy about using his fame to boost ticket sales. During a rare online promotion for the film, the former singer and model joked, “If you watch Warriors of Future, you’ll be my wife.”

Due to Covid-related restrictions, cinemas in Hong Kong were closed for 104 days between January and April, which left local film enthusiasts hungry for content. A video of Koo tearfully expressing his disappointment in the film’s lackluster performance at the Chinese mainland’s box office further incited his fans to support the film.

A combination of factors has made Warriors of Future the highest-grossing Chinese-language film of all time in Hong Kong. Thanks to its 10.37 million USD takings in the city, the sci-fi epic has effectively revitalized Hong Kong’s film industry, which saw a 66% box office drop in the first half of the year compared to the same period in 2019.

Koo is presently planning to take his sci-fi ambitions to the next level. Warriors of Future will see an animated prequel, and a teaser trailer was released in October.

“We haven’t decided whether to create a sequel to Warriors of Future,” said the star, who added, “I am glad that Warriors of Future has been recognized by many as an iconic Hong Kong sci-fi film and that Netflix will show the world that Hong Kong also has what it takes to create high-caliber CGI.”

All images via IMDb

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