The Chinese title of this film means “Martial Arts heroes’ but it was changed to ‘Dragon’ in the US by distributor Weinstein Company. Nevertheless, it’s a beautifully shot martial arts action drama and won Best Cinematography and Best Original Score at the 31st Hong Kong Film Awards 2012.
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“Wu Xia” is set in a small, sleepy village in Yunnan province, and tells the story of a humble family man and papermaker, Liu Jinxi. One day, while repairing windows in the local general store, two bandits arrive, consequently leading him into a scuffle in which the bandits end up dead. Liu reluctantly becomes the local hero because of his bravery.
Xu Baijiu, a detective assigned to the case soon discovers that one of the dead bandits is actually on his most wanted list. During the autopsy and since those bandits died in such unusual circumstances, he concludes that Liu is not telling the truth regarding how they died. Further investigation tells him that Liu might be connected to the 72 Demons, a bloodthirsty and ruthless gang, and he gets a warrant for Liu’s arrest from the magistrate.
As it turns out, Liu is actually the son of the 72 Demons Master. Upon discovering where Liu is hiding, he sends out his henchmen to bring him back. But Liu only wants to have a peaceful life with his newfound family, which leads to a confrontation between father and son. Interestingly, Xu steps in and helps Liu and they both go against the evil Master of the 72 Demons master, ending in a brutal fight.
Donnie Yen plays Liu Jinxi, the humble papermaker with a dark secret. This film is character driven and Donnie handles his dramatic role with ease, showing the viewers his acting abilities. He’s also the action director so we are treated to some great and entertaining action. Tang Wei plays Don Wei, wife to Liu. She is able to bring out the qualities of being a dedicated, kind housewife and mother.
Takeshi Kaneshiro almost steals the show portraying Xu Baijiu, the determined detective who is skilled in physiology and acupuncture. Upon discovering Liu’s true identity, he becomes absolutely obsess at bringing him in. Takeshi plays the part well as a man with hidden demons, similar to Liu;s character. Perhaps that’s why he finds redemption and helps Liu fight against the 72 Demons.
The Master of the 72 Demons, Liu Jinxi’s ‘father from hell’, is played by Shaw Brothers veteran, legendary Jimmy Wang Yu, the famous One-Armed Swordsman. Jimmy might be old now but he still has some serious killer moves, while his climatic fight with Donnie is both savage and exciting to watch. As if that’s not enough, Kara Hui, another SB veteran, cameos as one of 72 Demons henchwomen, giving Liu some hard time which results in a most satisfiying fight.
Since director Peter Chan is obviously paying homage to the old school Shaw Brothers Wu Xia movies, his inclusion of Jimmy and Kara hits the right spot. Visually, ‘Wu Xia’ is a delight and looks fantastic, the sleepy village comes to life with shots of rolling hills and bamboo forest. This is enhanced with the use of traditional flutes and strings music to create the moods of village life.
Overall, ‘Wu Xia’ is a good character driven and dramatic film with great, creative action thrown in. Definitely one of Donnie Yen’s finest performances and Jimmy Wang Yu as the villain is just the icing on the cake.