The Art of War had the capability and talent for a good movie. Unfortunately, it failed somewhere in the process. Many aspects contributed to its downfall, such as the plot and unrealistic action scenes. While the movie uses the title from a book by the Asian warrior Sun Tsu, it bears little resemblance to the text.
The movie begins like the typical action movie – at the climax of the previous mission. Shaw (Wesley Snipes, Passenger 57, Blade), a United Nations covert operative, is on assignment at a banquet hosted by Chan (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Mortal Kombat) on the eve of the new millennium in Hong Kong. With the assistance of his team members, expensive gadgets and gizmos, and a little bit of martial arts, Snipes is able to pull off the mission while sustaining a shoulder wound in the process.
The story is then fast forwarded to six months later, when the hero, recovering from his injuries, is suddenly pulled back into action while a trade pact with China is on the block. After the forward-thinking ambassador to China (James Hong, Big Trouble in Little China) is assassinated, the ensuing chase ends with Snipes in custody as the suspected assailant. The stage is then set for the most demanding mission of Snipes’ career – the search for the real killer and his own vindication.
The Art of War tries to mix the elements of art and action into a twisting plot of whodunit. Director Christian Duguay (Screamers, Terminator 3) attempts to intertwine visual art and Asian culture with an action-like Matrix/James Bond appeal, but the two did not meld well together.
It is clear from the beginning that the focus is not completely on the action, but also on Asian political and artistic values. During the first forty-five minutes of the movie, we get of sense of Chinese problems and their attempts to resolve those issues. This heavy social review is too much for one looking for another Passenger 51. The slow-moving plot eventually enlivens when Snipes is arrested for assassinating the Chinese ambassador.
The story, written by Wayne Beach (Murder at 1600), lacked originality. Less than halfway into the movie, the ending becomes obvious, which made it harder to avoid falling asleep.
Also, some of the characters were annoying. Anne Archer (Fatal Attraction, Short Cuts), who plays Eleanor Hooks, the United Nations Secretary-General’s right hand man, should have been casted differently. Archer enunciated every line she gave with the same monotone voice and same cocky attitude throughout the entire movie. She gave a blah aura to her character.
Many of the scenes in the movie are unrealistic, such as the one in which Snipes is twenty feet away from an assailant and both unload multiple cartridges of bullets at each other, and then walk away without a scratch. Also, according to the movie action, it’s no big deal to jump out of a third story window and keep running without so much as a sprained ankle.
The visual artistic effects added elegance to the movie. The martial arts choreography with the special effects mimicked those in The Matrix, which included characters dodging bullets while watching them sail by the in slow motion. This gave the fighting scenes an essence of artistic beauty. With the use of dragons and marital arts, the Asian culture also assisted in the artistic effects of The Art of War.
Christian Duguay’s attempt for a successful political-action movie failed miserably. The Art of War had the potential to be a great movie, but lacked certain elements that would get it to the caliber of a movie like The Fugitive. Duguay’s Terminator 3 comes out in 2002, so we will see if he can stake his claim as a good director again.