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September 24, 2017

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Wu Xia (武俠)

With this title and lead actor Donnie Yen (甄子丹), there was no doubt that "Wu Xia" (武俠) would be a quality action film. However, it is obvious that Cantonese director Peter Chan (陳可辛) has never limited his directorial projects to an action film.

The first half of "Wu Xia" had the making of a moving drama about a man's struggle to choose between justice and humanity, but the director eventually makes a lazy effort in figuring out how to finish it.

Liu Jinxi, played by Donnie Yen, is a family man who runs a paper factory in rural China in the early 1900s. For 10 years, his mysterious past has never been questioned by his loyal wife Ayu, played by Tang Wei (湯唯), or the villagers who have adopted him as one of their own.

Until after Jinxi fights and kills two robbers, that is, and his unassuming and idyllic life falls apart. The detective investigating the case, Xu Baiju, discovers that one of the thieves is a man no one has been able to defeat for years, and he becomes suspicious that Jinxi was once a dangerous criminal who has evaded his deserved punishment.

Takeshi Kaneshiro (金城武), plays detective Xu who — despite encouragement by others — refuses to leave Jinxi and his new life alone. Xu is obsessed with two things: justice and acupuncture.

His fixation for justice makes him unravel Jinxi's past and quiet life. The acupuncture is an odd element to the film and it is difficult to understand the director's choice until the end. The part of Xu Baiju was tailored for Kaneshiro. The detective is a somewhat eccentric and thoughtless man who does some dim-witted things to try to test Jinxi's skill.

Xu is apparently from Sichuan and in the film, Kaneshiro speaks with a Sichuan accent. Though the accent is consistent with the character, it is very different from the accents the rest of the characters speak with. Sichuan has no significance in the film so the accent is distracting rather than interesting.

In the first half, Xu Baiju appears to be the protagonist of the film. The detective poses an important question in the film, "Is law really more important than humanity?" This complex idea never really gets explored as the film soon shifts to Liu Jinxi and him literally trying to fight off the past that has come back to get him. As a martial artist and choreographer, Yen is brilliant and the film's second half clearly plays up this strength. There are few scenes where he is truly required to act and most of his long scenes are fight scenes.

The themes of justice, identity, and compassion could have been developed more. Instead of developing the characters emotionally, the film fails to challenge the actors and just depends on Yen's martial art skills to resolve problems. "Wu Xia" had the potential to be better, but the creators played it safe and ended up with a film that will interest fans of action-packed thrillers but not those looking for a profound drama that includes aspects of action. ■

► Directed by Peter Chan / With Donnie Yen, Takeshi Kaneshiro, Tang Wei and Jimmy Wang Yu / Drama-Action / Hong Kong, China / 2011 / 115 min. / Rated PG-13 for disturbing images and violence / Mandarin and Chinese with Chinese and English subtitles / ★★☆☆☆ / Now Showing

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