Warriors of Virtue (1997) poster

Warriors of Virtue (1997)


Hong Kong. 1997.


Director – Ronny Yu, Screenplay – Hugh Kelley & Michael Vickerman, Producers – Christopher Law MD, Dennis Law MD, Jeremy Law MD, Ronald Law MD & Patricia Ruben, Photography – Peter Pau, Music – Don Davis, Visual Effects Supervisor – John Gajdecki, Special Effects – Ya-Lin Wang & Jian-Ping Xia, Makeup Effects/Animatronic Character Effects – Alterian Studios (Design – Tony Gardner), Production Design – Eugenio Zanetti. Production Company – Law Brothers Productions.


Mario Yedidia (Ryan Jeffers), Angus Mcfadyen (Komodo), Marley Shelton (Elysia), Jack Tate (Yun), Doug Jones (Yee), Don W. Lewis (Lai), J. Todd Adams (Chi), Adrienne Corcoran (Tsun), Dennis Dun (Ming), Michael John Anderson (Mudlap), Tom Towles (General Grillo), Ricky D’Shon Collins (Chucky), Michael Dubrow (Brad), Teryl Rothery (Kathryn Jeffers)


Ryan Jeffers is an average kid who is prevented from engaging in sports due to a leg brace. After he aids the football jock Brad in making a winning play, the bullying Brad invites Ryan to join his gang. This requires an initiation where Ryan must cross a pipe over a whirlpool in a sewer tunnel. However, due to his leg, Ryan slips and falls into the whirlpool. He emerges through the other side to find he is in the kingdom of Yao and that his leg is healed. The kingdom is under the yoke of the tyrant Komodo who has demanded the harvesting of the world’s lifeforce rivers to make the drug Zubrium that keeps him immortal. The lovely Elysia sees that Ryan has The Book of Yao, which was given to him by the Chinese restaurant chef Ming and holds hope for Yao. However, Ryan has dropped the book and it is taken to Komodo. The only hope for the kingdom lies in the five Warriors of Virtue, kangaroo masters of martial arts that embody various of the elements. Meanwhile, Komodo finds the book to be blank and realises to access its power, the only one who can read it is Ryan.

Warriors of Virtue was a project conceived by the four Law brothers, who were all surgeons in Hong Kong. The two conceived the film and financed the $56 million budget with money from their father, a toy manufacturer. The film was seen as having international breakthrough appeal and was shot in English with American actors in locations vying between Beijing and Vancouver. Popular Hong Kong director Ronny Yu was brought in to direct. The film proved a financial and critical flop, only earning $6.5 million at the box-office worldwide and being critically trashed. I don’t know, maybe the Law brothers should have had some inkling that things were heading for disaster when they pitched the idea of a film where the heroes were talking kangaroos – a similar idea failed to work for Tank Girl (1995) two years earlier.

In Hong Kong, Ronny Yu has made martial arts efforts like The Postman Strikes Back (1981), the horror comedy The Trail (1983), the horror comedy The Occupant/The Tenant (1984), the psycho-thriller Mummy Dearest (1985), the popular hit of the Wu Xia The Bride with White Hair (1993), the horror film Bless This House (1988) and the Wu Xia Phantom Lover (1995). With the handover of Hong Kong to China, Yu briefly departed for the US, making Bride of Chucky (1998), the action film The 51st State (2001) and Freddy vs. Jason (2003), before returning to Hong Kong to make the acclaimed Jet Li martial arts film Fearless (2006) and the historical epic Saving General Yang (2013).

Mario Yedidia and kangaroo martial arts master in Warriors of Virtue (1997)
Ryan Jeffers (Mario Yedidia) and kangaroo martial arts master

Ronny Yu has an estimable history in Hong Kong Wu Xia cinema. On the other hand, attempts to sell Wu Xia to Western audiences have almost always fallen flat on their faces – see the likes ofThe Golden Child (1986), Bulletproof Monk (2003) and The Forbidden Kingdom (2008), with the only real exception being John Carpenter’s Big Trouble in Little China (1986). (Talking of which, it is nice seeing Big Trouble’s charismatic co-star Dennis Dun back on screens in a role as an adept Chinese restaurant chef).

Warriors of Virtue looks exactly a tatty 80s era fantasy film copycats that was being put out by studios like New World or made in Italy. It was something that was immediately outdated only a few years later when The Lord of the Rings films took Epic Fantasy to another whole level together. What we get here though is a minimal evocation of a Fantasy Otherworld with some cheap and very clearly limited-looking sets. That along with tattily mounted displays of magic and the addition of comic bumbling henchmen. Angus Mcfadyen gives an incredibly bad performance as the evil darklord – one where he goes to the kind of excess only known in vaudeville routines. Despite accomplished work elsewhere, Ronny Yu brings nothing distinctive to the material. The martial arts battles are dull and unexceptional.

Warriors of Virtue: The Return to Tao (2002) was a sequel,

Trailer here

Full film available here

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