Warriors of Virtue

on May 02, 1997 by Wade Major
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   Essentially a cross between "The Neverending Story" and "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles," "Warriors of Virtue" could be the most impressive Hollywood debut yet for a Hong Kong director, although lackluster writing and a needlessly muddled storyline somewhat tarnish the effort. Talented newcomer Mario Yedidia stars as Ryan, a standard- issue misfit adolescent whose fertile imagination propels him into a mystical world of martial arts and magic known only as the land of Tao. The once tranquil paradise, however, is threatened by an evil tyrant named Komodo (Angus Macfadyen) who supports his power by draining Tao's Lifesprings to mine an element called Zubrium. Only one Lifespring remains, just outside Komodo's reach and guarded by the amazing Warriors of Virtue, aka Roo-Warriors. Representing the five classic virtues and their symbolic forces of water, metal, wood, fire and earth, the quintet of kangaroo-like creatures are masters of kung fu as taught to them by wise Master Chung (Chao-Li Chi).
   Nonetheless, the balance of power in Tao lies neither with the Roo-Warriors or Komodo, but with Ryan, who has inadvertently brought along a lost Manuscript of Legend, a book containing secrets that will either give Komodo ultimate power or liberate Tao from his grasp. Skillfully blending popular motifs from both Hong Kong and Hollywood antasy films, director Ronny Yu ("The Bride With White Hair") and his ostly Hong Kong crew lend "Warriors of Virtue" an exquisite look and feel. Expert martial arts action in the best Hong Kong tradition and first-rate Hollywood special effects and makeup work together to create a magical adventure that should enthrall children of all ages as well as die-hard fans of Hong Kong cinema.
   As conceived and produced by the Law brothers, four Denver-based physicians, the film's naivete is both its strong suit and its weakness. Although the Warriors themselves lack the strong personality traits and humor of the Ninja Turtles, they make for more compelling nscreen characters, helping divert attention from a surprisingly amateurish and cliched script by Michael Vickerman and Hugh Kelley. Occasional lapses into overly technical Chinese philosophical jargon, though distracting, are forgivable in view of the film's overall theme.    Starring Angus Macfadyen, Mario Yedidia, Marley Shelton and Chao- Li Chi. Directed by Ronny Yu. Written by Michael Vickerman and Hugh Kelley. Produced by Dennis Law, Ronald Law, Christopher Law, Jeremy Law and Patrician Ruben. An MGM release. Fantasy. Rated PG for fantasy action violence and some language. Running time: 102 min
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