Donnie Yen continues his reign as the new Hong Kong action legend in this exciting drama from director Peter Ho-Sun Chan (THE WARLORDS) which pays a double homage to a classic martial arts film.
1917 China. In the Liu village lives a man named Liu Jinxi (Yen). He is a family man with a wife and two children. He works at the local paper mill and general store. When one day, two robbers arrive to take money from the store, Liu somehow defends himself and is hailed a hero when both villains are found dead. However, when an investigator named Xu Baiju (Takeshi Kaneshiro) arrives to check the crime scene and bodies, he thinks differently of how they were dispatched.
As Xu and Liu become friends and rivals, dark secrets are soon revealed and even worse, a clan known as the 72 Demons have heard the news about the heroic villager and have set up plans to confront him. Do the 72 Demons have a connection with Liu Jinxi? The answers are soon revealed.
Donnie Yen is truly making his mark as one of Hong Kong’s newest legends and this film is just another stepping stone in terms of Yen showcasing not only his action skills, but his acting skills as well. While IP MAN (2008) may be said to be his breakout film in terms of acting, this film showcases Yen more as an actor and the formula works. Yen plays a villager who may or may not hold a dark secret, one that can affect everyone around him, including his family.
For most of the film, the film serves as a period cat-and-mouse game between Yen’s Liu Jinxi and Takeshi Kaneshiro’s Xu Baiju. While Liu wants to just live his life as a simple villager, Xu feels there is something under the surface. As if Liu has something to hide as to who he may really be. When it is all said and done, despite their opposing views, the duo ultimately join forces to take on an evil bigger threat.
This is where the beginning of the “double homage” begins. The film pays tribute to one of the greatest martial arts films made in Hong Kong, THE ONE-ARMED SWORDSMAN (1967). The first piece comes in the form of the returning Jimmy Wang Yu, who makes his first film appearance in nearly two decades. Here, he plays the notorious leader of the 72 Demons, who lead a charge to go after Liu. The other comes in the form of a man who repents himself by chopping off his arm only to use his good arm to fight.
Donnie Yen also served as the film’s action choreographer. While most of the film focuses on the dramatic portion in terms of characterization, the action really kicks in an hour into the film. In a terrific fight sequence that combines Yen’s frenetic pace and that of the wuxia pian, Yen pits himself against another kung fu film legend, Kara Hui, who plays a female assassin of the 72 Demons. The finale, pitting Yen against Wang Yu, is quite exciting as it pays homage to not only THE ONE ARMED SWORDSMAN, but other classic kung fu films as well. Yen truly did his homework and his action complements the script very well.
In conclusion, Donnie Yen has somewhat upped the ante when it comes to his acting chops with WU XIA. It is highly recommended for not only the hardcore Donnie Yen fans, but also those who have a love for a combination of martial arts and drama.