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Wu xia | Peter Chan, 2011
China/ Hong Kong | 114 minutes
Star Donnie Yen in person at July 9 screening! Additional screening added on July 12!
Peter Chan has become king of the intellectual blockbuster with his swoon-worthy musical Perhaps Love, his tragic Jet Li vehicle The Warlords, and his patriotic historical epic Bodyguards & Assassins. Now he makes his first straight-no-chaser martial arts movie. Remember what Ang Lee did for swordplay with Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon? This is like that, only more so, trading shining steel blades for iron-knuckled fists. Dragon has a heavy heart, a series of brilliantly conceived action set pieces, and enough humor to save it from self-importance. And it’s got something on its mind: if we are the choices we make, can we ever transcend our bad decisions? Is redemption real, or just a temporary way station on our road to hell?
Shot in luscious greens and woodsy browns, Dragon opens with a picture of domestic bliss. Donnie Yen is a papermaker living with his wife (Tang Wei) and two kids out in the middle of nowhere. Life in the country is good, but when two incompetent miscreants roll into his idyllic village, he’s forced to take action to preserve this paradise. And take action he does, leaving the two thugs as dead as disco. Detective Xu (Hong Kong heartthrob Takeshi Kaneshiro) rolls into town to examine the corpses like a 1917 Sherlock Holmes who believes in just two things: science and the law. He uses his deep knowledge of medicine to reveal that Donnie is a martial artist in hiding, and that he might also be a psychopathic member of the 72 Demons, a clan of Hanguts who were hounded into near-extinction by the ruling Han Chinese.
Kaneshiro and Yen play high stakes cat and mouse, while Tang watches the man she thought she knew stripped of one lie after another until all that’s left is a monster. Kara Hui, once Shaw Brothers’ golden girl, is a blood-curdling, knife-wielding assassin whose battle with Donnie is the highlight of the movie’s midpoint, but she’s nothing compared to living legend Jimmy Wang Yu, the star of the classic Shaw Brothers film One-Armed Swordsman, who turns in a scary-ass performance that essentially brings the movie to a crashing halt with nothing more than his cold, empty eyes.