I’ve wanted to see the Chinese movie Wuxia for a long time now but despite a limited western release, it never actually made its way into shops here. It was released in western countries under the name Dragon, which having now seen the movie, I am not overly sure why, but the good news is that I did buy a copy from the Xinhua bookstore in Chinatown, for a whopping $7.00.
It’s hard to describe what kind of movie Wuxia actually is as it crosses over several genres. It starts out quite suspenseful, leaning into being a full-fledged detective movie, but ends up as a quite traditional wu xia flick (wuxia being Chinese martial arts).
In a nutshell, the story is about Liu Jinxi (Donnie Yen), a simple farmer who intervenes when two wanted and dangerous criminals attempt to rob the general store. A fight ensues and both criminals are killed, drawing investigator Baijiu (Takeshi Kaneshiro) to the village. While the police chief is overjoyed that the criminals were killed (one of them being within the top 10 wanted men), Baijiu is suspicious of the method in which Jinxi dealt with them, suspecting that he is in fact a wanted man himself, having potentially displayed martial arts skills the likes of which are seemingly only taught by Chinese crime gangs.
There’s some really interesting, almost Sherlock Holmes style methods used as Baijiu attempts to re-create the fight in the General store which sadly doesn’t really carry over to the last half of the movie. Naturally, the focus becomes focused on Jinxi, whose cover life as a peaceful family man is jeopardized as one of these crime gangs becomes aware of what’s going on.
I won’t go into too much more detail as it’ll spoil the plot, but let’s just say the second half of the movie is dominated by action scenes, and while not over the top, and well-choreographed by Donnie Yen himself, I would have preferred it played out like the detective move it set out to be. In fact there were moments in the movie that were so suspenseful, they were somewhat surprising in a movie of this style.
I found myself really liking the character of Baijiu – your typically straight-laced police type who plays so blindly by the book that he’s basically alone in a world of corruption. He’s lost faith in humanity, proclaiming ‘there are no good men’, having learned his lesson from saving a delinquent youth from punishment, only to have the youth then poison both him and his family.
The character of Jinxi was also interesting, showing that there’s much more to Donnie Yen as an actor than just a martial artist, but as usual, it’s always a pleasure watching him kick ass.
Wuxia was a great movie, if not a little lost in its identity. I will admit that I am most definitely a Takeshi Kaneshiro fanboy, and am rarely disappointed with anything he’s in – the same holds true for Wuxia. If you’re interested in checking out another Chinese period piece detective movie, check out Kaneshiro’s Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame (2010) – it’s lots of fun!