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ZN (2011)
Wu Xia

Reviewed by: j.crawford
Date: 10/03/2013
Summary: Wonderful!

This was really, really good. Totally engrossing from the first frame to the last.

Reviewer Score: 9

Reviewed by: ewaffle
Date: 06/07/2013

There are some fundamental questions concerning the human condition raised in Peter Chan’s “Wu Xia”: can a man control his destiny or is he always subject to the endless cycles of karma; can excessive emotions (such as the profligate sense of empathy felt by Detective Xu Bai-Jiu) be tamed or will they always get in the way of rational thought; is the law a universally accepted system of rules and guidelines that govern behavior or is it a malleable construct that reflects the time, place and power relations present when it was created. None of the questions get answered in the movie, which makes sense because they are raised in the first place to justify acts of murder, mass slaughter, betrayal or pillage that the questioner plans to carry out.

So thematically “Wu Xia” is all over the place—not that important since the narrative is anchored with the terrific extended fight scene that kicks things off. The only question that counts is asked by Xu Bai-Jiu: “What kind of man are you Liu Jin-Xi?”

Liu Jin-Xi seems to be a papermaker who gets up early every day to start the breakfast tea for his wife and two children, packs his tools and heads off to work at his one man operation in town. He is respected and well liked—one of the town elders remarks that business for many merchants have picked up due to so many people coming to buy his excellent paper. Things change—completely—when he stumbles into a robbery at the local general store. Two criminals are terrorizing the shopkeeper and his wife, demanding money. Almost forced to intervene after cowering in fright (or something) for a while, Liu Jin-Xi stops the crime and kills the ringleader although he looks clumsy and dangerous only to himself while doing so. It turns out the dead robber is a fugitive. The local nabob is happy since he can take credit for the dead bandit and the citizens of the town are thrilled to have a newly discovered protector. Ah Yu is happy since her son is about to be inducted into official adulthood and given adult clothing by the village. A good day for everyone until the bespectacled detective shows up.

Xu Bai-Jiu has a very useful gift for an investigator—while listening to a description of a crime (or in this case a disrupted crime and what appears to be a justified killing in self-defense) and examining the crime scene he is able to reconstruct almost exactly what happened with one key aspect missing. He is unable to discern the emotions of the participants that so can’t tell what anyone was actually attempting to do—he can see what happened but has no idea why it happened.

“Wu Xia” moves seamlessly from extremely well done action to scenes of heightened suspense to lingering but never too long views of the quietly spectacular setting that surrounds the village. Jimmy Wang Yu dominates every scene he is in—it is a great short role, full of rage, cunning and always bordering on total insanity. Kara Hui is a wonder, still slim as a knife blade, she looks very fit and as able to slash, punch and kick as well as she did thirty years ago. In what must be in homage to Wang Yu’s iconic role from the late 1960s and 1970s, Liu Jin-Xi chops off his arm and tells the Master’s lieutenant to deliver it to him. He didn’t have quite the flair of the original dismemberment however. In at least one of the “One Armed Swordsman” movies, Wang Yu cut off his arm which then, in defiance of the law of gravity, spun up into the air. As it fell, he pinned the offending limb to a fence with his sword.

This is a very well made film that both uses and updates the conventions of martial arts movies. It is almost perfectly paced with excellent performances from the entire cast.

Reviewer Score: 9

Reviewed by: MrBooth
Date: 01/06/2012
Summary: 8/10

Donnie Yen and Takeshi Kaneshiro star in Peter Chan's film about atonement and the law of unintended consequences. Two hapless bandits are accidentally killed when villager Liu Jin-Xi tries to defend the village store. Everybody is pretty happy about the result, especially when it turns out the bandits were wanted criminals - but detective Xu does not believe Liu's story about how the deaths came about, and sets about looking for the real truth.

Wu Xia is a well-written film which manages to inject a relatively fresh story with some interesting characters, beautiful scenery and just a smattering of exceptionally well designed and executed martial arts action. There are moments of implausibility, such as one of the worst plans ever on Detective Xu's part, but overall it's a film where as much effort has gone into the script as the production, and it pays off.

Donnie continues to show maturity as an actor, and impressive strength and skill as a martial artist given his advancing years. The rest of the cast are all good too, with Jimmy Wang Yu's just about acceptably over-the-top performance being something of a highlight.

Action scenes are creative and dramatic, giving martial arts fans another good reason to enjoy the film.

Reviewer Score: 8

Reviewed by: Beat TG
Date: 10/04/2011
Summary: Donnie's best film since Ip Man

Donnie Yen is back with another film! Ever since his big breakthrough playing wing chun master Yip Man in Ip Man back in 2008, we have experienced a streak of movies that he starred in. These films were as followed: Bodyguards & Assassins, 14 Blades, Ip Man 2, Legend Of The Fist, All’s Well Ends Well 2011, The Lost Bladesman and a couple of small roles in both All’s Well Ends Well 2009, and The Founding Of A Republic. That should tell you how valuable Donnie is to the industry in the current, with offers placed to table and with Donnie pondering over them. But has his recent input really been doing justice to films before them? We all have our own opinions but in my mind, it has shifted being in different qualities and satisfactions. But I’m glad to announce that Wu Xia is the icing of the cake out of all these post-Ip Man movies. It’s also the most ambitious effort from Peter Chan thus far.

Donnie Yen plays peaceful familyman and papermaker Liu Jin-xi who travels between his shack in the middle of a forest to a small village on the Yunnan/Sichuan border everyday to work and support his wife Ayu (Tang Wei) and two kids. During a workday at a store, Liu comes across two travelers with the intention to rob the place. But to the owners’ luck, Liu intervenes and manages to overcome the two and even have one of them killed. This results in a big investigation conducted by Constaple Xu Baijiu (Takeshi Kaneshiro) who during the inspection of the corpses as well as questioning locals about the people involved realizes that the one Liu accidentally had killed was actually a notorious criminal belonging in a Top 10 List of wanted criminals and that Liu might not be the man he appears to be. Xu then raises his suspicion on Liu and is prompted to try digging up secrets concerning Liu’s true identity, which from there leads to all sorts of things, including the arrival of a gang of outlaws called The 72 Demons (lead by Jimmy Wang Yu, in his first onscreen appearance in 18 years), which I won’t spoil any further.

The story takes cues to traits found in the wu xia (literally referring to martial arts and legendary warriors in mythical or ancient times) genre and if you’re a fan of these films, you won’t be a stranger to what to expect. However, don’t expect anything too familiar because the film is not an ordinary wu xia film. Wu Xia plays out with obvious western influence (the TV show CSI and David Cronenberg’s A History Of Violence reportedly being the most evident ones). But one can also see that Peter Chan has injected different elements, film techniques and visuals for enhancement giving the film a different look and whole new twists to the genre the film represents. Power of martial arts, human anatomy, crime investigation, suspension, depth, emotion, visual attraction etc. It’s like watching kung fu, crime, mystery/thriller, drama, and neo-noir altogether.

Another strong aspect of the movie is the acting. Takeshi Kaneshiro and Tang Wei are really showing their efforts whenever they appear onscreen and for once never overacted or acted out of proportion but absorbed themselves into their characters and giving them the attitude and mood in the right moment. Takeshi, in particular, is phenomenal in that he portrays a character he’s not known for and trying to be and maintaining the characteristics and mindset of his character. But this is Donnie and Jimmy Wang Yu’s show. Donnie has come a long way with lots of downs in the acting department. But since An Empress & The Warriors he has constantly kept trying out different roles to improve his acting skills and the outcome is paying off and shows in everything he has been doing more and less. Wu Xia is one few testaments of how good his acting skills have become and how further he can take it. Jimmy Wang Yu, on the other hand, is pure dopeness in his vicious role as a Tangut leader. In a total screen time of just 10-15 min, you’ll see an actor gather so much menace and depth simultaneously that it gives those words a new meaning. Watch his two key scenes and learn.

For martial arts film fans, the action here designed by Donnie himself are very satisfying and quite refreshing but don’t expect an action-packed film because the emphasis here is mostly on the story and characters. There’s not a whole lot in the first half but once the second half kicks in you’ll be offered to some very good moments of martial arts choreography. Since SPL came out, Donnie’s way of choreographing action scenes have seen alot of hype, praise and comparisons to other action stars in other films like Flash Point (which is still his most talked-about work to date). Donnie has done pretty well in recent years as well with Legend Of The Fist and proved himself to be as successful with period action films as with contemporary action films with The Lost Bladesman. In this film, he shows us what he can do with martial arts choreography in correlation to the strength and visuals of storytelling, for which something new with the action has been accomplished. If there’s one person that has complexity, variety and overall creativity of another level today and keeps evolving his craft, it’s Donnie.

Overall, Wu Xia is one of the best Hong Kong/Chinese films this year, the best film from both Donnie and Peter Chan, and a film that will be damn hard to surpass. If there’s any form of competition that is happening or is going to happen to outbeat it, it will be a hard task for these people.

Reviewer Score: 10

Reviewed by: STSH
Date: 07/09/2011
Summary: A blast !

Donnie Yen continues to mature as an actor. His role in Wu Xia allows a greater range than many before. And that he manages this while keeping up a jaw-dropping standard of fu design is further reason to delight in his current prolific output.

The story revolves around the relationship between millworker Liu Jinxi and Detective Xu. The detective skillfully cross-examines the modest Jinxi. From the moment Liu Jinxi kills a hardened convict, it is clear that Liu is not who he purports to be. So why does Jinxi treat Xu as a friend ?

Considering that this is a fu flick, the relationship between these two main characters is complex, subtle and powerful. Much of the credit for this is down to Takeshi Kaneshiro, who gives one of his best performances. His Detective Xu uses acupuncture, dogged investigation, emotion and manipulation to get at the truth, having to examine his beliefs more than once along the way. He is simply riveting to watch, an all-the-more impressive achievement since his character is unable to fight.

So, what about the fighting ? In terms of screen time, there is far less fighting than, say, the spectacular and breathless Dragon Tiger Gate. Quite a lot of the story moves at the gentle pace of life in a sleepy village. But this story tactic provides a terrific contrast with the action sequences, which are breathless and stunning, the obvious use of CGI enchancement notwithstanding. And full marks for Donnie bringing in Jimmy Wang Yu and Kara Hui as guest stars. Though Jimmy benefits quite a bit from CGI, he still packs the old menace, and Kara is in fine form.

It is good to see Tang Wei back on screen. Since her stunning debut in Lust, Caution, much was expected of her, but she vanished for a couple of years Does anyone know what happened ? Unfortunately, she isn't given a whole lot to do here. Her character is nowhere near strong enough to get a look in with Donnie and Takeshi dominating proceedings. Oh well.

During the slower scenes, there is time to take in the scenery, which is lush and lovely to behold. Judging by the number of Thai names scattered through the crew credits, much of the filming was done in northern Thailand. And yes, the scenery gets a look in during a couple of action sequences, and is then used to great effect.

Highly recommended.

Reviewer Score: 9