Film / The Art of War

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If you were looking for the epic Chinese poem about war strategy, go here.

The Art of War is a 2000 action film directed by Christian Duguay, starring Wesley Snipes, Anne Archer, Michael Biehn, and Donald Sutherland.

Neil Shaw (Snipes) is a covert operative assigned to the United Nations, who is apparently framed for a high-profile assassination by his employers.

It was followed by two Direct-to-Video sequels, the last of which did not feature Snipes.


The Art of War provides examples of:

  • All Part of the Show: The guests at David Chan's Y2K rooftop bash think Shaw fighting Chan's henchman is part of the festivities and get excited when a body camera is activated to be shown on the big screen during the fisticuffs.
  • Alone with the Psycho: Julia is trapped at the end inside the UN Building, first alone with Eleanor Hooks, who lets her walk out, only to be stalked by Bly.
  • Assassins Are Always Betrayed: Shaw is an assassin/covert agent for the UN, who has to uncover an international conspiracy after being set up by his employer and his teammate.
  • Backwards-Firing Gun: An improvised version occurs during a Gun Struggle, with the protagonist jamming the barrel of The Dragon's pistol against a marble floor and forcing him to fire, causing part of the slide to fly back into his face from the confined gunshot.
  • Battle in the Rain: Well, it's a fight in a building and it's raining outside.
  • Blunt "Yes": When we first meet Capella, he's without a stir straw for his hot coffee, so he swirls around the sugar with his finger.
    Ray: Doesn't that hurt?
    Capella: Yeah. *keeps swirling*
  • Bond Cold Open: The movie starts with Shaw and his team working on an assignment covering David Chan. Like the actual Bond movie that opened the year before, the cold open ends with Shaw falling a long way and taking a shoulder injury that plays an important role in the plot.
  • Boom, Headshot: Ambassador Wu, David Chan, Anna's mother, the Triad who killed Jenna, and Eleanor Hooks are all executed in this manner.
  • Bullet Time: The climactic shootout slows down for a moment to show a bullet whizzing just by Shaw's knee.
  • Call-Back: Shaw's chase of David Chan's assassin takes the exact same path as the one earlier in the movie when he was chasing Ambassador Wu's assassin, complete with flashbacks. This turns out not to be a coincidence.
  • Conveniently Empty Building: The U.N. building is apparently manned by one security guard.
  • Cool Guns: Shaw's Glock 17 with a custom rectangular suppressor, as well as Bly's suppressed Beretta 92D DAO pistol.
  • Delivery Guy Infiltration: There's a Bait-and-Switch when Wesley Snipes appears to be using Marie Matiko's character to infiltrate a Triad brothel, which is hidden behind a Front Organisation of a restaurant. Instead he handcuffs her to the steering wheel, grabs a crate of groceries which are being unloaded from a truck, and walks in that way.
  • Emergency Stash: Neil Shaw accessed an emergency stash of I.D. and money. It was hidden behind a mirror in the apartment of the one comrade who didn't betray him.
  • The End... Or Is It??: Shaw fakes his death and escapes to France, only to have his picture taken as he walks off arm-in-arm with Julia, by the same man who took the blackmail photos earlier.
  • Faking the Dead: When the Triads spring Shaw to frame him by disabling and flipping the police van, they shoot a prone Capella (whose eyes then close) to make sure he's dead. When they drive off, Capella climbs out of the wreckage and unbuttons his shirt to reveal a bulletproof vest. At the end of the movie, Capella helps fake Shaw's death so he can go off-the-grid with Julia in France.
  • Friendly Enemy: Every time Capella and Shaw cross paths, their tones are rather pleasant as opposed to one of an agent and a man wanted for an international incident. Mainly because Capella is a Deadpan Snarker and Shaw is a good guy.
  • Gun Kata: The film had a similar style fight in an empty hallway. A certain amount of respect and honor was loaded into the scene, as when they ran out of bullets, they went back to back and talked while casually reloading. Shaw and The Dragon spend most of the fight throwing snapshots... panic firing. It's more like Gun Fu since they still use acrobatic dodging.
  • I Know You're Watching Me: After being arrested and left alone in an interrogation room, Shaw raps suddenly on the glass, startling a female witness who's been called in to identify him, and causing a cop to spill his coffee.
  • Impaled with Extreme Prejudice: One of the Triad mooks gets a steel beam through his face. Then Bly gets impaled on a giant shard of glass, neck-first!
  • Impersonating an Officer: Shaw is checking out a Triad hangout when the police raid it. He apparently evades them, but a black FBI agent starts moving in the same direction he did, gun at the ready. Later one of the perps is getting in the face of several officers when that same agent appears, slams the man's head into the table, then hauls him outside to the amusement of the officers. It turns out to be Wes wearing the FBI man's cap and raid jacket.
  • Impromptu Tracheotomy: Bly's death via glass shard. It's as horrifying as you may think, but a perfect death for a traitor.
  • Irony: David Chan sports a bandage on his arm where he was shot during the assassination of Ambassador Wu; when Shaw rips it off to expose the lack of a wound underneath, a sniper then shoots Chan right where the original "wound" would have been, followed by a headshot.
  • Inspector Javert: Agent Capella on the trail of Shaw.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: Eleanor Hooks's death at the hands of the Triad, right after gloating to Shaw everything that she's responsible for is easily pinned on them.
  • Neck Snap: Shaw does this to an assassin in the hospital and Bly does it one-handed to a guard.
  • Never Found the Body: A big tip-off that Robert Bly is The Mole is the chase scene with Bly and "the assassin" takes place off-screen and over the radio, and no sight of Bly's body when he's "killed".
  • No-Holds-Barred Beatdown: A villainous version as the Triads track down Shaw's partner Jenna and brutally beat her to death. Shaw immediately pays her killer in kind.
  • Not My Driver: Hooks's limo driver is not her driver, but rather a Triad member who executes her right then and there.
  • Oh, Crap!: Shaw stumbles onto a tracking device that makes him realize he's the one who's been bugged the whole time, and immediately connects the dots that Bly re-injured his shoulder during the pickup game so the doctor could place the tracker in the wound. Cue Bly's arrival.
    Robert Bly: How does it feel to be a puppet without the strings!
  • One Bullet Left: During the climax, Shaw and the villain grapple with a gun at close range, so Shaw manages to eject the magazine to protect himself. However, Robert Bly sneers that "there's still one left in the chamber."
  • Pretty Little Headshots: Played straight with Ambassador Wu, Anna's mother, and David Chan, averted with Eleanor Hooks, whose brain matter ends up on the window.
  • Rewind, Replay, Repeat: When Julia is in the diner getting food, Shaw spots someone dropping a bag into a trash can. He replays it in his mind to confirm it, realizes it's a bomb, and crashes into the diner to dispose of it. Later, Shaw and Julia watch the footage of Ambassador Wu's assassination and notice that David Chan looks up in the direction of the shooter just before the gunfire occurs.
  • Tap on the Head: Robert Bly to Julia during the climax.
  • Those Two Guys: FBI agents Frank Capella and Ray, who continuously canvas the previous scenes in Shaw's wake.
  • Tracking Device: Shaw suspects Julia has a tracking device on her clothes and makes her take it all off and throw the clothes out the window of their car. Needless to say she is not happy. Later Shaw finds a tracking sensor and realises he is the one who has the tracking device implanted under his skin by a doctor working in league with The Mole, who 'accidentally' injured him during a basketball game.
  • Treachery Cover-Up: Shaw is set up for the murder of the Chinese ambassador in the middle of US-China trade talks. After finding out that a UN Liason/Covert Mission Control who was involved in the talks is the mastermind, he reveals the truth to the Triads. She is murdered by a member of the Triads and is lauded as a hero, who gave her life to ensure the success of US-China trade relations. Of course, this also serves as a big "fuck you" to her, as she was secretly working on sabotaging the talks.
  • Turn of the Millennium: The story starts on New Year's Eve 1999.
  • Two Guys and a Girl: The U.N.'s secret-ops team of Shaw, Bly, and Jenna Novak.
  • Underside Ride: Happens near the end, when Shaw escapes from a group of assassins by lying flat in the road, seemingly to avoid being hit by an oncoming truck. When it passes, he's nowhere to be seen, until it's revealed he escaped by grabbing on to the undercarriage.
  • United Nations Is a Superpower: Neil Shaw is an agent working for a United Nations black ops team that uses espionage, assassination, and other quasi-ethical methods to ensure cooperation from problematic nations.
  • Vomit Discretion Shot: When the FBI comes across a shipping container full of dead refugees, Capella's partner turns to hurl on the pavement, and the camera thankfully pans to an overhead shot.
  • We Need a Distraction: The Big Bad ensures the building is empty by announcing a fake motion detector test, causing all security to leave the affected areas except the poor sap in the monitor room.

The Art of War II: Betrayal contains examples of:

  • Batman Gambit: In the final scene, Shaw shoots Melina/Susan dead, then drops the gun and walks away. Garrett then picks up the gun and tries to shoot Shaw, only to find that there are no more bullets left, thereby incriminating himself for the murder.
  • BFG: The L-900 battle rifle, which fires depleted uranium rounds that are capable of blowing up tanks. Strangely, though, despite being repeatedly referred to as a "battle rifle" the weapon itself is actually fairly small, more resembling a larger automatic pistol and held one-handed.
  • Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: Julia doesn't appear or even get mentioned at any point in the film.
  • Halfway Plot Switch: The film starts out as Shaw investigating the death of his mentor, but near the end of the first act switches to his protecting some senators from a terrorist organization. His mentor's death does become important again in the ending, though.
  • I Have Many Names: Athena Karkanis's character is initially introduced as "Melina," but near the end of the film we find out that her real name is Susan Marsden. Then, just to really confuse things, she's credited as "Heather" in the end credits despite no-one ever referring to her by that name in the film.
  • Kick the Son of a Bitch: Sallas gets something of a Cruel and Unusual Death, whereby Shaw shoots him in the chest, then shoots him in both kneecaps, and then as he's leaving the room shoots the L-900, causing it to fire upwards and bring down the entire ceiling, finishing Sallas off.
  • There Is No Kill Like Overkill: Oddly enough, downplayed somewhat when Sallas uses the L-900 to execute a mole; while the gun does mess his body up pretty badly, leaving his torso looking like a piece of carbonized Swiss cheese, considering what we see elsewhere the guy should have been blown into a million little bits.
  • You Killed My Father: Or the closest thing Shaw had to a father, anyway. The death of his mentor spurs Shaw into getting involved with the plot.

The Art of War III: Retribution contains examples of:

  • Artistic License Military: Two of the film's main plotlines are North Korea and South Korea being on the verge of peaceful reunification, but the North Korean government apparently wanting to buy nuclear weapons. In reality, the former happening in anything like the way the film depicts it is absurdly improbable, and North Korea already had the ability to produce its own nuclear weapons even when the film was being made.
  • Character Shilling: In the ending, the Secretary-General gives a speech about what a brilliant agent Shaw is, for saving her from being assassinated by a terrorist. A terrorist, by the way, who was only able to even threaten her life in the first place thanks to Shaw himself, and would otherwise have probably never even gotten through the front doors of the UN building.
  • Karma Houdini: By the end of the film, the only thing that Shaw has accomplished is knocking out the Big Bad, while committing many colossal fuck-ups including murdering a bunch of South Korean intelligence agents who were just doing their jobs, unwittingly letting said Big Bad tag along with him, and thereby giving her the opportunity to assassinate the South Korean ambassador. The Secretary-General still gives a speech about how vital Shaw is to the security of the UN.
  • Imperial Stormtrooper Marksmanship Academy: Taken to ridiculous levels in the film's various fight scenes, eventually culminating in Shaw and Kim having a gunfight with Sun Yi in the Secretary-General's office, where they're separated by just ten feet and a couple of couches. Kim is the only person who actually ends up getting killed, and it eventually takes Jason distracting Sun Yi for Shaw to finally incapacitate her.
  • Non-Indicative Name: The film's title, given that nothing in the film ever suggests that Shaw is seeking revenge for anything. In fact, the titles of the two sequels would actually make more sense if they were swapped around, given that in the second film Shaw is investigating the death of his mentor, and in this film Shaw gets betrayed by Sun Yi.
  • Put on a Bus: Unlike the second film, this one actually explains Julia's absence, saying that she broke up with Shaw after he decided to return to working for the United Nations.
  • The Reveal: Throughout most of the film, Kim is presented as the main antagonist. As it actually turns out, he was a United Nations investigator working with South Korean intelligence to capture the arms dealers who were trying to sell nuclear weapons to North Korea. Though this does have the slight side-effect of meaning that all that Shaw managed to accomplish in the film was totally screw up Kim's operation and slaughter a dozen or so South Korean intelligence agents and police officers.
  • Unusually Uninteresting Sight: In the film's opening sequence, Shaw assassinates an arms dealer by throwing a bomb through his car window, then stabs a would-be suicide bomber to death. Despite this all taking place in front of a busy hotel in downtown Los Angeles, no-one at all notices any of this.
  • Unwitting Pawn: Shaw, big-time. He gets easily taken in by Sun Yi's act, eventually culminating in his unwittingly allowing her to assassinate the South Korean ambassador and very nearly the Secretary-General herself.

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