Wu Xia is a beautifully photographed Chinese actioner that feels like an extended episode of C.S.I. Think of it as C.S.I. China if you will. The film tells the story of Liu Jinxi, portrayed by Donnie Yen. When Jinxi goes to the store one morning, two thieves rob the store. Jinxi defends the elderly workers of the store, and ends up killing the two thieves with pure luck. The townspeople see the act as a kind deed and declare Jinxi a hero. When a detective (Takeshi Kaneshiro), investigates the crime scene, he notes that Jinxi’s abilities may be far greater than what anyone imagines. From there, the film becomes a detective noir in which Jinxi’s mysterious and dark past is slowly dug into.
Donnie Yen is one of my favorite action actors of all time. His lead performance in 2008’s Ip Man makes for one of the greatest dramatic performances of all time. The film balances drama and action flawlessly. His other notable roles include those in Ip Man 2, Flash Point, Kill Zone, Shanghai Knights, Once Upon a Time in China 2, and several more. He has the ability to combine charming niceness with dead seriousness. Few action stars can pull that off well and not come off as cheesy, corny, or respected. Donnie Yen is a very special actor who embodies the role of Jinxi very well. He is nothing but a noble father who just wants to do the right thing. His action choreography is spectacular as always. When he breaks out into full fledge fight mode, my body freezes and goosebumps run up my arms. Yen has that kind of effect on the viewer.
The other lead performance is that of the detective played by Takeshi Kaneshiro. Kaneshiro plays a detective who relies upon wits and cunning skill to excel at his tasks and work. While he never directly participates in the action, Kaneshiro carries much of the movie through the first and second act. At times, he will investigate a crime scene and replay the action in his head. This is very reminiciscent of the scenes in 1999’s Boondock Saints. Another film comparison is that of A History of Violence. The basic plot set up is very similar to Wu Xia‘s; in that a regular and every day man stops two criminals from robbing a store. In doing so, they attract unwanted attention to their mysterious pasts. While this is totally true, Violence and Wu Xia could not be more different. Kaneshiro’s detective is what separates this film from Violence completely. In that film, the viewer is the detective. While here, we actually have a character decoding the past of the protagonist for us. While Donnie Yen will be seen as the primary character to root for, I think that Kaneshiro deserves just as much credit for carrying the story along as well.
Wu Xia features beautiful action photography. High speed cameras capture scenes with incredible slow motion imagery. This beautiful photography complements the films action and detective noir elements greatly. In doing so, Wu Xia paints itself as a very unique and special action film. The action and drama are both perfectly balanced, with no one element ever outweighing the other. For that alone, I recommend Wu Xia to anyone who is a martial arts fan or even a detective mystery fan. Even if martial arts are not your thing, the detective story is very intriguing. Of course, if you are a Donnie Yen fan, than it is a no brainer to watch this.
The last thing I have to say is that I am not quite sure why the film was retitled to Dragon for its U.S. release. There is a tattoo of a dragon on a character at one point, but it hardly is worthy of being the title of the film. I guess because the most famous martial arts movie of all time, Enter the Dragon, has the word ‘dragon’ in it so maybe people would try to make a connection. I also read that 10 minutes were shaved from the film. While it plays great as is, I would still love to see the 10 minutes that were deleted. Oh well, blame the Weinsteins.
Wu Xia (2011 China/2012 U.S.) Directed By Peter Chan