Wu Xia, directed by Peter Chan and starring Donnie Yen, Takeshi Kaneshiro and Jimmy Wang Yu, was worth the wait, and a welcome change from some of the mediocre wuxia films I’ve been seeing.
When I heard that Peter Chan was directing a movie called Wu Xia, starring Yen, Kaneshiro and Yu, I didn’t need to hear anymore. When was the last time I saw Yu in a film? This could have been a movie with these guys playing kung fu mimes who work in an ice cream parlor for all I cared. It didn’t matter. I. was. going. to. see. it. And not just because Yen was in it. Ok, it’s pretty clear that I’m a Donnie Yen fan, but I do have standards. (I wasn’t all happy with Ballistic Kiss. At all.). Luckily for me, Donnie usually hits the mark here.
Here’s the thing about Wu Xia. This is not the first film you start with as a martial arts film watcher. This is the film that you see after you’ve seen 50 billion martial arts films, because only then can you appreciate what Peter Chan does. It’s not your standard wuxia film. It’s like Peter Chan thought, “Hey, let me try something new.”
So he lulls you with the lush cinematography and the simple lifestyle of one of our protagonists, Tang Long, played by Donnie Yen. We see him doing his everyday thing: feeding the kids, going to work. We see his cow on top of his roof. Dude makes paper for a living. How much more unassuming can he be? Things are cool, right?
Wrong! And you know it when trouble comes walking down the street in the form of two thugs. They go into the local store where Tang Long is just minding his own business, then all heck breaks loose! In the end, we have two dead minions of trouble and a nosy, Columbo-type (look it up) in the form of Xu Bai-Jiu (Takeshi Kaneshiro).
Now it turns into a CSI-worthy recreation of the “crime.” Oh, really? I didn’t notice that. Or that. Or THAT! And this is where Peter Chan does something different. He, and presumably Yen, take a garden variety fight scene in a store, and turn it into a work of art. They deconstruct the fight scene by putting it in impossibly small space and slowing it down. We’re used to fights that sprawl all over the place, but it’s good to see that craft can be bought to a small space.
But it really takes a turn for the crazy. When the second Xu shows up, it occurs to me: “Oh, you want me to think. Ok, Peter Chan.” Xu has issues all his own, and as seasoned as I am as a film watcher, I did find myself getting drawn into his paranoid delusions. Or were they?
And just when I thought I had the film well in hand, I think to myself: “Hey, isn’t Yu supposed to be in this movie?” And then he shows up. Like a boss!
In the DVD extras, Chan says he consciously waited until 2/3s of the movie was done before unveiling The Master, whom Yu plays. It was well worth it. Um, I’m kinda scared of him. Especially when he shows up at the homestead. He’s all kind/evil grandfather to the kids.You know kids aren’t safe in Asian film. Anything could have happened!
Also, don’t think that the allusion to One-Armed Swordsman escaped my notice. Classic! And then another expertly choreographed fight scene occurs, again in a space that presents challenges. I love it!
The icing on the cake of contentment with this film is the townspeople. Most of the time, they are just in the background, hanging out to be hapless victims. But these townspeople are funny! They provide interesting points of comic relief. They ARE the Greek chorus, saying things that you certainly would say if you were there.
Overall, I’m pleased with Wu Xia. If I had a complaint, it would be that Chan could have joined Tang Long and Xu’s storylines more seamlessly. At one point, it seems that this could be two different films. But given what it could have been, I consider that to be a minor point.
Wu Xia? WooHoo!