Does Sun Tzu’s legendary tome on strategy recommend a full-frontal assault to begin an engagement? If so, The Art of War took note. This film attacks from the get-go; it is on the offensive even as the curtains part.
Unfortunately, the movie wins the first battle, but loses the war.
The first scene is an ass-kicking head scratcher setting the stage for political intrigue and fists-and-feet of fury. From there, The Art of War is occasionally ass-kicking, but the only head scratching to follow is when you ask yourself why no one saw just how transparent the plot is.
Shaw (Wesley Snipes) is an operative working for Eleanor Hooks (Anne Archer), who heads a covert organization for the Secretary General of the United Nations (Donald Sutherland). On the eve of a historic free trade agreement between the US and China, Ambassador Wu (James Hong) is assassinated. In the hubbub that follows, Shaw’s partner Bly (Michael Biehn) is also murdered and Shaw becomes the prime suspect in the whole shebang. While in the custody of FBI agent Cappella (Maury Chaykin), Shaw escapes, thanks to The Triad, who are in town apparently to blow some shit up.
On the lam, Shaw begins to put the pieces of the puzzle together with the reluctant assistance of beautiful UN translator Julia (Marie Matiko) and discovers that he has been framed in an elaborate plot orchestrated by the great puppetmaster. Guess who?
As convoluted as The Art of War is, it is remarkably predictable. Every twist-and-turn is telegraphed; every should-be shocker is two steps behind. The only spoils The Art of War can claim are several well-choreographed and beautifully shot action sequences and the performance of Maury Chaykin. A hollow victory at best.