Wednesday, 18 May 2011
CANNES 2011 - Wu Xia
Wu Xia "Swordsmen" (2011) dir. Peter Ho-San Chan
Starring: Donnie Yen, Takeshi Kaneshiro, and Jimmy Wang Yu
By Blair Stewart
A dash of Rashomon, a pinch of A History of Violence, with Donnie Yen's left foot crushing your windpipe, Wu Xia takes a few chances with the Asian martial arts genre and mostly succeeds.
In 1917 China, two marauding bandits of great repute accidentally give up the ghost to local “aw' gee shucks” farmer Liu Jinxi (Donnie Yen with blindingly white teeth for a humble peasant) in a foiled village robbery. All appears on the up-and-up to the local officials except for Detective Xu Baijiu (Takeshi Kaneshiro) and his B.S. alarm. He's the sort of sleuth who can pull off the calabash pipe look. In a superb sequence, Baijiu's inspection of the crime scene recreates the battle, as the three combatants fling themselves around in slo-mo with projectile CGI teeth pinging about. Questions are raised about Liu's past, as the detective peels away his facade, inadvertently catching the attention of a fearsome Triad with a stake in the matter.
The touch of the detective in Wu Xia is far more subtle than that of Tsui Hark's overblown Detective Dee from last year, as Kaneshiro's character is enjoyably worthy of his own film. It would have been interesting to see him use brains in order to outwit flying-fist Shaolin monks and roadside bandits on his own. The rest of the story in Wu Xia is mostly enjoyable hokum with its x-rayed pressure point brutalities and acupuncture needle assaults. This film mostly suffers from a lack of epic rumble like those the Chans and Jaas have previously delivered. There's just something about one mean hombre taking out an army that puts a hop in my step. Despite Yen's immense skill and screen charisma, the fight sequences often suffer from being cut too quickly. The longer the take holds, the greater my admiration grows for what Ho-San Chan's stars and stuntmen can accomplish. Outside of these qualms, the film is commendable for experimenting with a formula that was once at its most basic – foot + face = awesome.