Anthony's Film Review
The Art of War (2000)
Though the action is pretty good, the plot's pacing feels uneven and often slow...
The Art of War is not just a 2000 action thriller film starring Wesley Snipes. It's also the title of an ancient Chinese military strategy guide by Sun Tzu, a book that still remains to this day a valuable handbook on strategy in combat and other situations. It is interesting for a movie with this title to reference that book and not be about Sun Tzu himself, which is why I wanted to check out this movie. I should note this, however. If you're expecting an action film titled The Art of War that references lines from that book throughout the film, you'll be disappointed. This movie mentions the book only twice and only within the film's climax. Everything leading up to the end barely seems connected to Sun Tzu and his book, but that's the least of the film's flaws.
Before I get to that, let me first comment on the plot and characters. Wesley Snipes is Neil Shaw, a covert operative for the United Nations who is sort of a black James Bond. In the beginning of the movie, he blends in with a crowd at a large party in Hong Kong, uses gadgets to gather intelligence, blackmails a Chinese official who is using U.N. money to fund military technology instead of humanitarian aid, fights a few bad guys, and makes a daring escape via parachute. Months later in New York City, two shocking events take place: the discovery of dead Vietnamese refugees in a cargo container and the assassination of a Chinese ambassador overseeing a trade agreement between China and the United States. Shaw begins his chase for answers just as the New York Police Department chases after him.
If there is just one thing to like about The Art of War, it's the action. Shaw gets involved in deadly fistfights, shootouts, and even a car chase where he is hanging onto the side of a truck while a pursuing SUV is right alongside it. Shaw is rather fun to watch in these scenes, which are done pretty well. As I watched the movie, I knew I could count on the action sequences to be intense and exciting enough. So at least this movie works when it comes to the action.
But when it comes to everything in between the action, I can't say the same. For one thing, the pacing of the drama scenes feels noticeably slower. A good action thriller should have excitement in both action and story so that the audience is on the edge of their seat all the way through. Here, the movie speeds up during the action but doesn't maintain that similar pace in the drama scenes, making the movie feel uneven. In addition, the supporting cast delivers average to mediocre performances. This includes Michael Biehn as Shaw's ally Robert Bly, Marie Matiko as Chinese translator Julia Fang, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa as business mogul David Chan, James Wong as Ambassador Wu, Donald Sutherland and Anne Archer as U.N. officials Douglas Thomas and Eleanor Hooks, and Maury Chaykin as NYPD detective Frank Capella.
The result is a movie that is rather flimsy. The necessary elements of action and plot are there, but it feels like they are loosely connected on a string, not a solid combination all the way through. There are a few plot twists, which I admit aren't too bad. But what matters more isn't whether there are surprises in the story, but whether they hold together with the rest of the movie. That's not the case here. With some elements that work and some that don't, The Art of War is an action thriller that falls slightly below average. If Sun Tzu ever saw this movie with the same title as his masterpiece book, he'd probably disapprove as well.
For more information about The Art of War, visit the Internet Movie Database.