Wu Xia (2011)

Wu Xia [武術] (2011)
AKA Dragon, Swordsmen

Starring Donnie Yen, Takeshi Kaneshiro, Tang Wei, Zheng Wei, Li Jia-Min, Jimmy Wang Yu, Kara Hui, Yin Zhu-Sheng, Chun Hyn, To Ning

Directed by Peter Chan

Expectations: High, but still guarded.


It’s all in the title. By titling this tale by the name of an entire genre of film, the filmmakers involved immediately acknowledge that this is something of an homage. Of course, it’s an homage to wuxia films, specifically The One-Armed Swordsman and films of its vintage that came out of the Shaw Brothers studio. While Wu Xia does not take its cues directly from any one film, there are many elements at work here that would fit in beautifully to a late ’60s Shaw Brothers flick, so for someone like me who’s doing his own homage in review form, this is like a direct I.V. of awesome.

Donnie Yen plays Liu Jin-Xi, a paper maker in a small village. One day working on some paper windows, a couple of thugs enter the shop and demand money from the owner. Liu cowers in fear behind a counter until he decides to take action and do whatever he can to stop the violent outbursts of the two men. As a martial arts fan this scene is somewhat disappointing because we all know Donnie Yen is a total badass, but he spends most of the fight just holding on to the one guy’s midsection. Despite this, the fight is fun, although it gave me a bad feeling that Wu Xia would be yet another modern Hong Kong film where a martial arts star is placed into the role of a man who does not know, and does not over the course of the film learn, martial arts. So let me just say this: keep watching. You will be rewarded.

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Red Cliff: Part II (2009)

Red Cliff Part II [赤壁] (2009)
AKA The Battle of Red Cliff

Starring Tony Leung Chiu-Wai, Takeshi Kaneshiro, Zhang Fengyi, Chang Chen, Zhao Wei, Hu Jun, Shidō Nakamura, Lin Chi-ling, Tong Dawei, Hou Yong, You Yong

Directed by John Woo

Expectations: Moderate to high. I enjoyed the first one a lot and I hoped that Part II was as good.


So the question is this: Does Part II live up to the expectations built up after watching Part I? Yes, yes it does. I liked this 140 minutes of Red Cliff more than the first 140 minutes, not necessarily because it’s better, but because of familiarity. Part II opens with a brief rundown of what happened in Part I over the credits. The first new shot is of troops opening the gate into Cao Cao’s camp. The music swelled and I broke a smile. It reminded me of how I felt when I first saw Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. Both films (Rings & Cliff) were made as one movie and then chopped into parts for release. So instead of the feeling of watching a sequel, with a slightly different production style, you are watching more scenes from the same movie. It’s a good, nostalgic feeling of revisiting something you love and finding treasures you had never seen before.

From there, Part II just consistently entertains. I especially enjoyed the part when Sun Shangxiang (Zhao Wei) is infiltrating and mapping Cao Cao’s camp and when the Southerners use a very inventive way to get the 100,000 arrows they need. The end battle of Part II is nothing short of spectacular. It’s a part naval battle, part castle siege, part kung fu action extravaganza. Like Part I, this end battle fills up the final hour of the film. The review would not be complete without mentioning how awesome Zhang Fengyi is as Cao Cao. Absolutely perfect in the role. All the actors are great, but Zhang Fengyi’s performance really caught me by surprise.

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Red Cliff: Part I (2008)

Red Cliff Part I [赤壁] (2008)
AKA The Battle of Red Cliff

Starring Tony Leung Chiu-Wai, Takeshi Kaneshiro, Zhang Fengyi, Chang Chen, Zhao Wei, Hu Jun, Shidō Nakamura, Lin Chi-ling, Tong Dawei, Hou Yong, You Yong

Directed by John Woo

Expectations: Moderate. I loved John Woo when I was a teenager, but I am more realistic about his strength as a filmmaker these days.


No one films action like John Woo. He is known for it and he does it very well. The action sequences in Red Cliff: Part I are outstanding, specifically the battle at the end of the film. The final battle fills up most of the last hour and it flies by. Without a doubt, one of the best action sequences in recent memory. It’s incredibly inventive and it feels like new ground, which is hard considering the massive legacy of kung fu pictures.

But to lump Red Cliff with standard kung fu films is wrong, because it really is more than that. It’s epic in its scope and its production design. It’s a kung fu film for the post-Lord of the Rings film era. But this is also where it falls a bit short for me. This first part of the film runs 146 minutes. It’s long. It feels long. There are times when certain scenes don’t seem necessary, so I found myself waiting through them, hoping for a better one next time. But a lot of my disappointment stems from my expectations. I came in to this film expecting a John Woo action picture. It delivers on that promise, no doubt, but it just takes a while to get there, so plan accordingly.

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