Review: Dr. Wai in The Scripture With No Words (1996)


Starring Jet Li, Rosamund Kwan, Billy Chow, Takeshi Kenishiro, Collin Chou, Charlie Yeung

Fight Choreography by Ma Yuk-Sing  and Ching Siu-Tung

Directed by Ching Siu-Tung

Everybody loves pulp heroes like Indiana Jones, Doc Samson and Allan Quartermain, and little boys who read or watched their exploits wanted to be them on screen, and many have tried but few were successful. The Indiana Jones films became the template on how to do them right, and Jackie Chan had success using some of the formula for his Armor of God films, and Jet Li decided to get into the act with the character of Dr. Wai…

Dr. Wai (Lee) and his good-natured, brave but dim-witted sidekick Pao (Kenishiro) globe trot all over the world searching for ancient Chinese artifacts. The film opens as a fellow archaeologist tries to commandeer a giant mechanical bull built Trojan horse style centuries ago, and Dr. Wai rides in to save workers as the bull goes out of control, running quite a few people over. Dr. Wai is able to save them, and afterward meets with General Leung, who wants to hire Dr. Wai to find a box containing the legendary Scripture With No Words, an ancient document said to contain incredible power. Dr. Wai and Pao take the job, which first finds them going undercover into a party throw by the  Japanese ambassador in Shanghai, in an attempt to retrieve a letter that holds a clue to the whereabouts of the scroll. Things bring them into conflict with General (Chow) and his commanding officer/cohort Yu (Kwan), who poses as a worker within the embassy to in order to gain Dr. Wai’s trust, and Dr. Wai finds himself falling in love with her. Dr. Wai and Pao then head to meet with a small pro-Chinese press office, where the scroll is being kept two oddballs:  the editor and his protege Pansy (Yueng) whom Pao finds himself falling in love with. Soon Dr. Wai and Pao must both protect the scroll and their new loves, but little do they know what trouble the scroll truly brings…

Dr. Wai is a fun but very dated film. The special effects are laughable terrible, and gets worse as the film goes on.. The story itself is also pretty flimsy, but it does have some good-natured humor, and allows Jet to have fun with the role, which he does. He has a good rapport with his co-stars, especially Kenishiro, who has silly fun as Pao. The Dr. Wai character is fun in and of itself, a martial arts master and archaeologist whose weapon of choice is an assortment of pens that can do things to put James Bond gadgets to shame. I’m fairly sure one of them could dial long distance. Kenishiro (Wu Xia, The House of Flying Daggers) is a lot of fun as the hapless Pao, who has moments of comedy that shows he’s comfortable in his dim-witted nature.

The fights are very wushu-centric, making them interesting to watch, but isn’t very innovative except for the fight between Jet Li and the leader of a group of bandits played Collin Chou

(Flashpoint, The Forbidden Kingdom). The next best fight is Jet Li using a metal rope chain against Billy Chow and a group of ninjas. Outside of that the fights were many but not nearly as interesting to watch. Some wirework was used, particularly in the fight where Dr. Wai had to take on two sumo wrestlers, but overall it’s minimal.

Dr. Wai is a fun but forgettable film that lets Jet Li indulge in an Indiana Jones with Kung-Fu style fantasy romp.

(On a scale of 1-10, 10 being the best):

CHOREOGRAPHY: (7) The fight choreography is fast and fluid, but lacks imagination and any real hard hitting. Jet Li, Billy Chow and Collin Chou did a good job with what was there, but that kind of talent they could’ve done so much better.

STUNTWORK: (8) The stunts were pretty good here, nothing amazing, and even the few wire assisted scenes were good.

STAR POWER: (9) Jet Li, the great Billy Chow (Petticab Driver, Fist of Legend) and Collin Chou, with Rosamund Kwan really was a showcase of Hong Kong stars, all of whom have made their mark.

FINAL GRADE: (8) Dr. Wai is a fun film that could use a good updating, but Jet Li is great in the role and Kenishiro is perfect as his hapless assistant. A fun time if you can get past the poor special effects.

NEXT: Another Op/Ed from Santanu! This time he tackles Tai Chi Master!

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4 Responses to “Review: Dr. Wai in The Scripture With No Words (1996)”

  1. I must admit, I’ve never seen this one. Did you know there are two different versions? The one you seem to have seen is the one set completely in period, but there is another version set in the present day. In that version Jet plays the AUTHOR of the Dr Wai stories, and the period-set action scenes are excerpts from his novels.

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    • kunderemp Says:

      I didn’t aware there were two version of it. The one I watched in Indonesia in 90s was the one mentioned by MikeOutWest.

      There was one small part that was so imprinted in my mind. It was the scene where Dr. Wai took his hat of the ground and he did it by flipping it.

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  2. P J Italiano Says:

    As a great fan of J.L., I went to Netflix to see if the film was available; and, it is not. I am going to go to the Mall and purchase it. I always look forward to reading your reviews as you have a unique quality of “nailing” the essence of the film. I saw Collin C with Donnie Yen in Flashback. The fight scene at the end of the film was cold-blooded. I watch it over and over again. That Collin C. is amazing to watch, in my humble opinion. I look forward to watching this film. J.L. screen presence is magnetic and hypnotic at the same time, in my humble opinion. He is certainly gifted.

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  3. P J Italiano Says:

    I have been into the South Korean films lately. I am just amazed at the brilliant work of those guys. At this juncture, I have learned a great deal about making films. I watch that scene with Collin C and Donnie Y. all the time. I saved it on my laptop. Oh, what I wanted to say was that I watched all of Jet’s films from the beginning of his career. When he was young he was always smiling in his films. Now that expression of cold-blooded wrath is always on his face.

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