Talk about multicultural: In “The Great Challenge,” you’ve got your Japanese Yakusa, your Chinese Triads and your multiracial sons of the Paris projects — the famed “Yamakasi” — on an action-packed visit to Bangkok where all the protags speak (what else?) Parisian French. A spectacular improvement on 2001’s “Yamakasi,” which was morally bankrupt but made a bundle, this spirited, well-lensed sequel finds the now London-based lads bound for Thailand to set up a gym.
Their intention is to teach local kids their dazzling techniques for scaling and bouncing off urban architecture the way Spider-Man does — but with only their own strength, flexibility and apparently indestructible knees in place of rope-like web goo.
In the first of two bold back-to-back opening scenes, a statue is stolen from Bangkok’s Wong Tower by two agile masked thieves. Next up, the Yamakasi employ London rooftops as a jagged soccer field, defying gravity by dint of guts and sinew, before heading for Thailand.
But when the freshly arrived guys mistakenly use one of Triad boss Wong’s construction sites as a giant jungle gym, they end up fighting violent hooded minions while dangling from their fingertips. The scary local toughs work for a half-Asian/half-French brother-and-sister criminal team who caused Wong, who doesn’t trust his Japanese son-in-law, to lose face. Got that?
The all-important bloodlines and ethnic rivalries make broad sense, but are mostly an excuse on which to pin a cavalcade of physical confrontations during which the Yamakasi — half a dozen young men of Arab, African, Asian and French heritage — get to show off their impressive agility.
This time, the message is that teamwork with loyal friends is infinitely cooler than being a Yakusa or working for a Triad boss. That sure beats the first pic, which was strangely low on physical derring-do and sent the message that it’s fine to break into the homes of wealthy people in order to steal enough loot to buy a heart for a little black kid from the projects who needs a transplant.
No guns are fired until a full hour has gone by; until then, frequent rumbles consist of purely hand-to-hand combat parsed with Olympic-caliber gymnastics and the occasional drawn sword. A lot of talk of honor and ancestors sort of justifies the actions of various characters. Lensing is as agile and muscular as the forever-moving bodies on display.
The term “Yamakasi” hails from Zaire where, in the Lingala language, it means all of the following: strong mind, strong body, strong man. Original French title translates as “Sons of the Wind.”