If it's crap ... We'll tell you
Detective Xu Bai-jiu (Takeshi Kaneshiro) travels to a rural Chinese paper-making town to investigate the deaths of two dangerous criminals who were seemingly killed through the dumb-luck of Liu Jinxi (Donnie Yen). Xu, however, thinks Liu is a powerful martial arts master trying to keep a low profile and aims to uncover the truth.
Rumor had it, originally, that this was a Donnie Yen/ Peter Chan remake of The One-Armed Swordsman, and while it may be a homage to that film somewhat, it certainly isn't a remake, or a reboot, or a sequel... this is it's own story. Wu Xia is an interesting take on it's namesake. While it takes place in a wuxia world, it is far more a noir film than a wuxia film. Let me put it this way, imagine if Chi and meridian points and all the things that allow characters and wuxia films to fly and walk on water and do all those amazing things were real... but not only real, but a scientifically verifiable, measurable force. Takeshi Kanesiro is a detective in this world, and uses deduction to determine that Donnie Yen's character must have significant martial arts power. Watching this deduction play out and the way the two characters try to play each other is the best part of this film. It is absolutely engrossing, and I am consistently impressed with how much Donnie Yen's acting continues to improve. This character is a far cry from his affable Ip Man portrayal. He's constantly guarded as if he's trying to hide something, while trying to seem like a simple farmer. But Xu Baijiu's deductions start to make you think the worst about him. He might be this heartless burtal killer in disguise, and there is flashes where he'll just scare the crap out of you. The film mostly takes place in the rural town with Liu's family and the landscape is just beautiful. The colors pop out at you and the film looks absolutely gorgeous.
For most of the film there is almost no action. I was really expecting something riddled with fights throughout(like the Lost Bladesman was) and I was surprised when more than the half of the film had passed with little in the way of fisticuffs. And yet, this was probably the best part of the film. Not to say the action is bad. On contrary, it's pretty great. There's a rooftop chase that was absolutely gorgeous and leads into a fight between Donnie Yen and Kara Hui that will probably be one of my favorites of the year. (Kara Hui has this 'Oh Fuck!' look on her face when Donnie Yen disarms her that made me laugh.) It's always great to see Kara with swords in hand. The wire work wasn't overused, and really made a lot of sense considering the rest of the story. The of the fighting is grounded in martial arts and not jumping around.
The problem I had was with a few of the decisions the story made right near the very end... they seemed sort of cheap or out of the blue. I thought the ending was a let down... but this might just be me. I can't go into it further without some pretty major spoilers, but it did leave a sour taste in my mouth with what was otherwise a really interesting and involving film.
It's a bit slow in the beginning, but if you go into it expecting a noir film and not a kung-fu film you should be right at home. Some of the things at the end really drew this back for me... but it drew things back in a way that prevented it from being a perfect movie, not from being a really really good movie. Wu Xia is absolutely excellent and should not be missed.
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