In the late Qing Dynasty (1917), on the cusp of China's transition from monarchy to a republic, Liu (Donnie Yen) is a papermaker, leading a simple life with his wife Ayu (Tang Wei) and their two sons. Into their remote village comes Detective Xu (Takeshi Kaneshiro), who is investigating the deaths of two bandits during a robbery. Xu quickly realizes that the incident in question was no ordinary botched robbery - and his dogged inquiry threatens to dredge up the dark secrets of Liu's buried past, threatening not only Liu and his family, but the entire village.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
It's been described by its makers as 'Colombo meets CSI' but this doesn't fully capture the epic tone and the brilliant images that fuel one of the most interesting of recent Chinese films with martial arts traditions. Wu Xia also includes magic realism, fabulous scenery and a dramatic sensibility that is more pronounced than in the usual run of martial arts films.
Director Peter Ho-sun Chan has succeeded in fusing together the elements that appeal to international audiences with some of the best martial arts sensibilities. He doesn't overuse the action, but what there is fulfils audience needs for well choreographed, dynamic and legible combat. By legible I mean the camera records the fights in mid shot and wide shot, so we can see the physical context, giving us a few close ups of specific fight choreography. These fights are not a blurry flurry of close ups edited to music and sound, but action sequences that we can understand - like witnesses.
The interest in the action is driven by character; Liu (Donnie Yen) is the centre of the story, living in a beautiful, peaceful village making paper. That alone is an interesting feature. He has been here 10 years, having met the woman who made him want to stay, a mother whose husband had left. It was the perfect hideaway for a man who wished to disappear and change his life.
When two bandits attack the village store, Liu is forced to spring to the storekeeper's defence, and in the ensuing fight, kills both. This fight appears to us like a street fight, until Detective Xu (Takeshi Kaneshiro) turns up to investigate. As he probes, the fight is magically restaged - with him as the observer included - and we see that it was no ordinary fight. Xu's suspicions about Liu are raised, and his secret identity as a former killer becomes the focus.
A layered story with excellent performances and outstanding production values, Wu Xia is only burdened with occasionally confusing plot elements. But there are so many strengths it is the mood that lingers, and the redemptive resolution.
Published first in the Sun-Herald
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WU XIA (Ma15+)
CAST: Donnie Yen, Takeshi Kaneshiro, Tang Wei, Jimmy Wang Yu, Kara Hui
PRODUCER: Peter Chan
DIRECTOR: Peter Ho-sun Chan
SCRIPT: Aubrey Lam
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Jake Pollock, Yiu-Fai Lai
MUSIC: Kwong-Wing Chan, Peter Kam
RUNNING TIME: 116 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: China Lion Films
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: July 7, 2011
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