The Art of War (2000)
The Art of War (2000)

Genre: Action Running Time: 1 hr. 57 min.

Release Date: August 25th, 2000 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Christian Duguay Actors: Wesley Snipes, Anne Archer, Maury Chaykin, Marie Matiko, Michael Biehn, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Donald Sutherland, Liliana Komorowska, James Hong, Paul Hopkins

 


 

T

he new millennium is about to begin in Hong Kong, with midnight celebrations ramping up. Atop a towering skyscraper, a shadowy figure copies stolen, top secret missile technology documentation from the penthouse office of the Chinese Defense Minister. That secret agent is Neil Shaw (Wesley Snipes) of the UN’s Covert Operations Unit, whose activities are monitored by a surveillance van parked below, manned by fellow operatives Robert Bly (Michael Biehn) and Jenna Novak (Liliana Komorowska). After forcing a return to the negotiating tables by North and South Korean politicians through crafty blackmail, Shaw engages in some martial arts combat, stops repeatedly to straighten his bowtie, and makes a hasty escape by jumping from the rooftop while being shot at.

Six months later, the Secretary General of the United Nations (Donald Sutherland) is congratulated for the diplomatic accomplishments. With this success, he suggests to mentor and right-hand-woman Eleanor Hooks (Anne Archer) that a temporary cap on all covert missions should be put in place. After all, their top man needs time to recover from his injuries. But just as a UN trade agreement with China is about to go into effect, a boat full of dead Vietnamese refugees turns up in New York, leading to protests, political unrest, and the potential for significant international conflicts, centered around Ambassador Wu (James Hong) and industrialist David Chan (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa). Swearing off parachutes and submachine guns, Shaw reluctantly agrees to do a little eavesdropping at a press conference, assuming that it’ll be simple, light duty. But when hitmen show up, the stage is set for further death, destruction, and spy games.

A bit of violence, some “Mission: Impossible” type infiltration and sleuthing, a foot chase in the rain, kung fu combat, vehicle stunts, and plenty of assassination attempts populate the first few scenes of “The Art of War.” It’s fast-paced, action-packed, full of collateral damage, and rather ruthless when it comes to victims. It’s also somewhat confusing, particularly in the way Shaw pieces together events after they’ve occurred, with the film playing flashbacks containing information he couldn’t possibly know. This technique is coupled with repeated shots (some in slow-motion) and distorted imagery to visualize Shaw’s superior mind and skills with deduction, which only exaggerate the unbelievability of it all. Nevertheless, as he becomes a fugitive framed for the ambassador’s murder, his detective work transforms into merely killing off a great number of triad goons and gun-toting thugs intent on eliminating witnesses.

“Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference between the good guys and the bad guys.” Interpreter Julia Fang (Marie Matiko) is one such witness, who steps into the role of a romantic counterpart, someone who needs Shaw’s constant protection, and a gradually more willing accomplice. Maury Chaykin as lead FBI detective Franklin Cappella stays a few steps behind, doing his best to be an idiosyncratic, nonchalant, easygoing lawman, along the lines of Theodore Bikel in “The Defiant Ones” or Tommy Lee Jones in “The Fugitive.” And Snipes opts to enliven his performance by alternating stern grimaces and tongue-in-cheek jibes.

Two explicit references are made to Sun Tzu’s treatise, “The Art of War,” which details how deception and manipulation can be utilized instead of firepower to destroy the enemy from within – though it has little bearing on this picture. It may additionally share the title, but the attention to chases and shootouts and gunshots to heads negates the brainier ideas about strategies and tactics of warfare. Toward the conclusion, even the mystery of who is behind the double and triple-crosses doesn’t really matter; it devolves into a bullet-dodging, body-battering, glass-shattering, scenery-demolishing collection of brawls. This isn’t as much about the art of war as it is the bloodthirsty brutality, lawlessness, and sacrifices of war.

– Mike Massie

  • 3/10