The Art of War

Directed by Christian Duguay
Starring: Wesley Snipes, Marie Matiko, Anne Archer, Maury Chaykin, Donald Sutherland, Michael Biehn.
MPAA Rating: R for strong violence, some sexuality, language and brief drug content.

Review by Matt Heffernan <>
August 28, 2000

OK, now let's see if I can remember how The Art of War went. Luckily, I have my notes, but this past weekend has been extraordinarily busy. I have seen five new films since this one, but the impression lasts: that is, there wasn't much of an impression to begin with.

Wesley Snipes is back in the action hero mold, as a United Nations covert operator named Shaw. After settling some nuclear arms issue with North Korea, while spending Chinese New Year in Hong Kong, Shaw comes back to New York. He is assigned to watch over a dinner at which the Chinese ambassador to the U.N. (James Hong) will announce his plans to carry through with the Chinese Trade Agreement, opening up the market of 1.5 billion people to the West. Obviously, this agreement would not bode well for the black-market-controlling Triad, so they kill the ambassador.

Shaw runs after the assassin (through a wonderful construction site, full of sparks and puddles), loses him, and ends up as the suspect. Since he doesn't officially exist, proving his innocence is quite difficult. Only the U.N. Chinese interpreter, Julia (Marie Matiko), saw the real killer, but the police don't quite believe her. Shaw and Julia somehow end up on the run together, as they try to clear his name and bring down the Triad.

So where does the title fit in? There are some hints at Shaw possibly being a student of Buddhist philosophy, but it is never followed up on. I suppose that the producers just thought The Art of War would make a cool title for a movie, so they commissioned a preposterous script from Wayne Beach (Murder at 1600) and Simon Davis Barry. Director Christian Duguay (Screamers) tries to mold this material into an amusing Bond-ish adventure, but it never comes together.

I think that the cast (an impressive list of talent, including Donald Sutherland, Anne Archer, and Maury Chaykin) didn't realize that this film was supposed to be ridiculous. Bond casts know what they're getting into, at least. Or maybe the filmmakers really thought this was a serious spy thriller, in which case I would have to chastise them on their poor taste. Applying the slightest thought to the occurrences in this film is pointless, since no thought was put into them.

Now I am left to wonder whether I was laughing at the film, or with it. Either way, it doesn't reflect well. If the joke existed, somebody should have let the cast in on it. For now, it will exist as another mediocre late-summer action film, and nothing more.

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Review © 2000 Matt Heffernan