A Tale of Three Cities (2015)

A Tale of Three Cities [三城記] (2015)

Starring Lau Ching-Wan, Tang Wei, Qin Hai-Lu, Boran Jing Bo-Ran, Huang Jue, Elaine Kam Yin-Ling, Li Jian-Yi, Jiao Gang, Phillip Chan Yan-Kin, Wang Zhi-Xuan, He Ya-Fei, Xiong Ao-Yu, Yuan Wei-Xuan

Directed by Mabel Cheung

Expectations: Moderate. I’m curious to see the story dramatized.


After watching Mabel Cheung’s 2003 documentary, Traces of a Dragon, about Jackie Chan’s parents and their wartime struggles before arriving in Hong Kong, I was immediately intrigued to see A Tale of Three Cities, Cheung’s 2015 feature film version of the story. Like everything with me, though, “immediately” turned into 16 months later, so the true story of the documentary wasn’t quite so fresh in mind. This probably worked out for the best, allowing A Tale of Three Cities to exist a bit on its own, although I was also surprised just how many events in the movie I do remember from stories in the documentary. The question of which one better tells its tale is one I’m not entirely sure I can answer, although for me I’d lean towards the documentary. Regardless, it is quite the incredible story that you’re not likely to forget however you take in its specifics.

Our story begins during the Second Sino-Japanese War, with a series of events showing us the food chain of war. Whether we acknowledge it or not, the world generally exists on the principle that everyone is out for themselves, and only the strong survive. The context of war adds a huge amount of chaos to the mix, changing circumstances in a moment, for both good and bad. This is communicated expertly by Cheung in these opening moments, and in terms of the film’s plot it eventually introduces us to Chen Yuerong (Tang Wei), a mother of two young girls who has just become a widow. Cheung chooses to introduce the male lead, Fang Daolong (Lau Ching-Wan), many years later, in the early 1950s when he is working in the kitchen of the US consulate in Hong Kong. We don’t know of his struggles to get there, but the depth of his experience is easy to spot in his eyes and the way he carries himself.

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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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