Released: July 2011(China)
Director: Peter Ho-Sun Chan
Run Time: 98 Minutes(American Release)
Donnie Yen: Liu Jin-Xi
Takeshi Kaneshiro: Detective Xu Bai-Ju
Wei Tang: Ah Yu
Yu Wang(Jimmy Wang Yu): The Master
Of all the genre’s in film that I enjoy, there is one sub-genre of action that has always appealed to me: Martial arts. I grew up watching Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan movies as did many people. Like many people, Lee and Chan were my inspiration for taking up martial arts myself. There’s a number of reasons why I love martial arts movies. It is absolutely amazing to see what the human body is capable of. Yeah, some of these films utilize wires and special effects, but the way some of these actors move can only be accomplished by someone who has been trained as a martial artist. There is a sub-genre within the martial arts film world called wuxia. Literally translated, wuxia means “martial hero.” While the term wuxia is actually fairly new, stories about Chinese heroes goes back over 2,000 years, so it’s not a new kind of story. In the film world, wuxia films generally take place in during the time when China was an empire. A hero in the wuxia world generally comes from a lower class citizenship and serves no lord. He or she fights for righteousness, removing tyrants and bringing retribution for past misdeeds. There are a lot of wuxia movies out there right now. Among the finest are the Once Upon a Time In China films starring Jet Li, 2000’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and Hero. One of the largest characteristics of a wuxia film is its fantasy setting which incorporates the use of wires during action sequences, giving the action a very exaggerated yet spectacular flair. For some people, a lot of wuxia films are just too similar. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon didn’t garner much attention in China, because they see those movies all the time. A few years back, a nifty little kung-fu movie came out which changed things up a little bit.
Set in the backdrop of the waning days of the Qing Dynasty, Wu Xia follows a man by the name Liu Jin-Xi, as he makes his way to a nearby village as a paper-maker. Shortly after, his shop is attacked by two high-way robbers. An ensuing scuffle ends up with the two robbers dead and Jin-Xi with just barely a scratch. A local detective, Xu Bai-Ju, is brought in to ascertain what had happened. After interviewing Jin-Xi and inspecting the crime scene, Bai-Ju comes to the conclusion that only a skilled martial artist was capable of killing the two robbers who happened to be trained killers themselves. Suspecting Jin-Xi of being that martial artist, Bai-Ju follows Jin-Xi around observing him and his behavior. As it turns out, Jin-Xi may not be the person that everyone thinks he is.
One of the first things I noticed was that we see the opening fight scene happen twice. Once as it was actually taking place and when it was being analyzed by the detective. When it first happens, we see Donnie Yen’s character just grab a hold of one of the assailants while he’s being swung around. It’s pretty funny actually. When we see Takeshi Kaneshiro’s character analyze the situation, we see the fight differently. Instead of the bumbling oafishness that Jin-Xi described, what actually happened was that the two robbers never had a chance. We see Jin-Xi for the martial artist that he is, and it is spectacular. That brings me to interesting observation: There really aren’t a whole lot of fight scenes in the movie. Odd, isn’t it? This is a movie starring Donnie Yen, one of the greatest martial arts actors of the past 3 decades and it only has 3 fight scenes? Here’s the thing: Wu Xia is just as much a kung-fu movie as it is a police procedural drama. One could say that this is CSI: Qing Dynasty. You wouldn’t necessarily be wrong. There’s a lot of elements in the film which look like they have been borrowed from CSI. That makes it fairly unique, because this isn’t just a straight-up fight movie. There’s more to it than that. While there only three big action set pieces in the film, each one is hard-hitting and brutal.
Donnie Yen, who I would consider to be my favorite martial arts actor today, not only serves as the main actor, but is also the action director and fight choreographer. Instead of utilizing MMA-style fighting like he has in some of previous films, Yen opts for a more traditional kung-fu style of fighting. Make no mistake about it, Donnie Yen is fast. In fact, I would consider him to be one of the fastest martial artists in the world. His choreography is unique and very elegant and spectacular, especially when he takes on the two assassins. But that’s not only his real contribution to the movie. Wu Xia also gives Donnie Yen room to flex his acting chops, and he does extraordinarily well. His character is not only a husband and father, but when faced with revealing what he is capable of, Yen really gives Jin-Xi a very sympathetic quality. Takeshi Kaneshiro is the detective with a past of his own, but is sworn to uphold the law no matter what. The character is very detail-oriented, and he has a way of correctly deducing what happens in situations that involve Jin-Xi. It’s kind of a cat-and-mouse game between the two characters, and it’s not only humorous at times, it’s also very compelling and convincing. Kaneshiro is just absolutely fantastic. So, who’s the villain of the film? He’s simply known as The Master, the leader of the 72 Demons, a bloodthirsty gang. The Master is played by the legendary Jimmy Wang Yu who’s known for his role in The One-Armed Swordsman and Master of the Flying Guillotine. He’s got the physical presence and stature to be a fantastic villain, and while he doesn’t appear that often in the film, he’s memorable and ruthless.
If there’s really a downside to the film, it’s that there is only 3 real fight scenes, but each sequence serves a purpose and helps drive the story forward. There’s definitely some wire-fu in here, so for people used to seeing martial artists like Tony Jaa, Scott Adkins, and Tim Man do their stuff without wires, this may be a little off-putting, but I feel it’s appropriate, because it’s a wuxia movie at it’s core. It’s a surprisingly thoughtful and well-made film that attempts to add something different to the kung fu formula. Donnie Yen is one of the go to guys for martial arts movies, because he’s extremely talented. Not only is he a fantastic martial artist, but he’s a pretty damn good actor too. That’s a rare combination to find. When it’s all said and done, Dragon(Wu Xia) is a very solid film in every respect. It’s got humor, great acting, a compelling story and some awesome action sequences that will satisfy most kung-fu junkies. I’m giving this one a 9/10. Highly recommended.