‘Twilight of the Warriors: Walled In’ Shows Hong Kong Action Cinema Is Alive and Well

It should surprise exactly no one that one of the year's best action films came out of Hong Kong.
Twilight Of The Warriors

Hong Kong action cinema exists in a world of its own, untouchable by most filmmakers elsewhere. The genre’s heyday remains the 80s and 90s, but just because we can never go back doesn’t mean Hong Kong has stopped delivering absolute bangers. They may not be as frequent, and they rarely feel as gloriously unsafe as they once did (there are regulations now!), but you need only to watch the likes of SPL 2 (2015), Raging Fire (2021), 100 Yards (2023), or dozens of others to know that action fans are still well served over the past decade by genre masters in Hong Kong and China. One of those occasional masters is Soi Cheang (Love Battlefield, 2004; Accident, 2009; Motorway, 2012; Limbo, 2021; SPL 2), and he’s back this year with a blistering hit that reaches backwards to remind favorably of the past with brand new thrills. Twilight of the Warriors: Walled In is a big, brutally entertaining blast that pairs real heart with a whole lot of ass-kicking.

Hong Kong in the 80s is a quickly growing metropolis fueled by ambition, money, dreams, and violence, and Kowloon City — an enormous, chaotically constructed collection of interconnected buildings — crams all of it into a densely populated urban puzzle. Also known as the City of Darkness and Walled City, it’s a community unto itself with a populace prone to treating violence with violence, and kindness with kindness. Into this mess of concrete, metal, and cabling comes Chan Lok-kwan (Raymond Lam), an immigrant on the run from triad thugs who scammed him before he ripped them off. He’s soon taken under the wing of Cyclone (an impossibly cool Louis Koo), the city’s “godfather” of sorts who decades earlier defeated and expelled the criminal element. Chan finds a new life in Kowloon and a possible future, but the past soon comes calling for Chan, for Cyclone, and for everyone else around them.

Twilight of the Warriors: Walled In is a new Hong Kong classic that sees Cheang, his crew, and his entire cast at the top of their game. An adaptation of the novel/manhua by Yu Yi and Andy Seto, the film is simple enough on its face story-wise while still enjoying a deep ensemble and some sporadically dense character arcs. There are caricatures and leaps in logic, CG assists and a late character lean towards the fantastical, but all of it works beautifully to tell an engaging tale in a unique setting with an abundance of thrilling and highly entertaining action. The fights are fast, frequent, and wonderfully varied in style while using the setting to its fullest.

Flashbacks reveal connections between the old guard including Cyclone, Mr. Big (Sammo Hung), Chau (Richie Jen), and Jim (Aaron Kwok), and they’re the ones — along with Kowloon itself — behind the twilight of the title. All four get time to shine with acting chops and action beats, and they feel at times like the human embodiment of the Walled City itself. Each one an integral piece of each other’s life, a system at odds with itself even as it appears to thrive, but still destined for destruction. It’s their past actions that have ensnared the youths on both sides of the moral divide even as they’re making new friends and enemies of their own, and those younger talents are every bit as captivating here. Lam does good work as the insular scrapper who finds himself opening up for the first time, and his fight skills run the gamut from lightning-quick hits to MMA-style takedowns. He finds three compatriots in Shin (Terrance Lau), AV (German Cheung), and Twelfth Master (Tony Wu), each of them displaying charisma and fight skills on their way to becoming the new warriors and hopeful future of Kowloon, a city with no real future of its own. The quartet could easily carry a film of their own, and I won’t be surprised if we get one. Philip Ng plays King, one of the big bad’s stooges who truly comes into his own in the film’s back half as he explodes with violence and personality.

Cheang, cinematographer Cheng Siu-keung (numerous Johnnie To films), and production designer Mak Kwok-keung (Ip Man franchise, 2008-2019) turn the Walled City into a wonderfully atmospheric locale and move us from towering views to claustrophobic hallways. The skeletal structure here is the miles of wiring, scaffolding, and tin sheets used for everything from roofs to floors to walls. Practical sets, CG mattes, and more help bring it all to life and give the film its own visual identity, and it serves both as an atypical setting and a sincere acknowledgement of the very real lives lived within those walls.

Much of that would be less compelling if Twilight of the Warriors: Walled In didn’t deliver with the action, but stunt coordinator Tanigaki Kenji (Rurouni Kenshin franchise, 2012-2021) once again shows a flexibility and creativity when it comes to crafting fights and stunt set-pieces. The result is a lot of high quality action ranging from one on one fights to epic clashes with multiple players on screen at once, and all of it plays beautifully with the environment as characters dash across roofs, crash through walls, and more. Fight styles offer up a mix of fists, feet, and blades, with both messy brawling and far more disciplined skills on display. There are CG touches and stunt doubles (especially for the older performers), but none of it interferes with the visceral thrills on display. The action is relatively grounded, but Tanigaki isn’t shy about using wire-work to bring a sense of style and fun to the proceedings.

Twilight of the Warriors: Walled In has one eye on the past of both Hong Kong and the action genre, while the other looks ahead to a promising future. The film is a big, sprawling celebration of the genre and talents. It could have arguably spent more time with the city’s non-fighters as we only get a couple moments of connection between the lead ensemble and these quieter, hard-working folks, but they land with a welcome splash of humanity. Still, there’s no complaining about what we do get — a contender for the top spot when it comes to the best action films of 2024.

Twilight of the Warriors: Walled In is currently playing theatrically in Hong Kong and the UK, and it’s scheduled to hit U.S. shores later this year.

Rob Hunter: Rob Hunter has been writing for Film School Rejects since before you were born, which is weird seeing as he's so damn young. He's our Chief Film Critic and Associate Editor and lists 'Broadcast News' as his favorite film of all time. Feel free to say hi if you see him on Twitter @FakeRobHunter.