Wuxia is set during the transition period of Qing Dynasty to ChungHwa Republic in 1917. At a hospitable Liu Village on the border of southwestern China’s Yunnan province, a humble paper-maker Liu JinXi (Donnie Yen) lives an idyllic life with his loyal wife Ayu (Tang Wei) and their two young sons XiaoTian (Li JiaMin) and FangZheng (Zheng Wei). Liu JinXi is a simple man from a secluded village and he has settled at Liu Village for the last five years after he married then single mother Ayu. But Liu JinXi’s tranquility begins to unravel when a pair of fugitives enters the village and attempts to rob the local convenience store.
Liu JinXi happens to remain inside the convenience store after he fixed the store’s windows as the pair of fugitives demand money from the shopkeeper. The robbery turns very violent. The fugitives begin to brutally bash the shopkeeper and his wife. Liu JinXi is then drawn to clumsily intervene with the pair of vicious fugitives whom he inexplicably manages to dispatch them without leaving any fatal wound on their bodies.
The local magistrate soon dispatched an inspector, Xu BaiJiu (Takeshi Kaneshiro), to investigate the death of the fugitives. Xu BaiJiu is an expert in physiology and human pressure points. He’s on the hunt for three mass murderers: Fang RiShou, the “War Hero”, who kills dozens of people at a gambling den; Zhao YiGuang, the “Eye Collector”, who gauges the eyes and rips the tongues out of his victims; and Bu Yuan, the “Psychopath”, who loves to drain the blood out of innocent people before tossing their heads off into a nice pot of soup. Xu BaiJiu arrives at Liu Village on the prowl for more clues. During the autopsy, Xu BaiJiu discovers the duo fugitives were among the notorious outlaws in the land. He also confirms one of them was Yan DongSheng, who is on the top ten of most wanted government’s list. Xu BaiJiu’s superior is elated upon the discovery; especially the fugitives were killed in his jurisdiction. The villagers rejoice and Liu JinXi is hailed as the local hero. Liu XinJi and his family are rewarded.
Xu BaiJiu recognizes Yan DongSheng was a superb martial artist and he discerns how seemingly an innocent paper-maker could deliver a single fatal blow by luck to a fierce seasoned fighter. Xu BaiJiu investigates the entire crime scene by interrogating Liu JinXi along with gathering recollections of other witnesses’ of the brawl. Through his forensic reconstructions of the deadly fight, Xu BaiJiu believes Liu JinXi conceals extraordinary martial art skills.
In order to proof his theory, Xu BaiJiu conducts series of trials upon Liu XinJi in various situations. First, he threw him off the hanging bridge in inconspicuous manner where Liu XinJi landed on tree branches before he fell to the river down below. He then goes on to the extent of attacking Liu XinJi with a sickle which it seriously wounded him. During these unusual methods of investigation, Liu XinJi reveals to Xu BaiJiu that he is the son of a butcher of Gong Village in LianZhou. Liu XinJi further mentions he previously spent 10 years in LianZhou prison for murder. Xu BaiJiu is still suspicious and he dispatches his assistant (Jiang Wu) to LianZhou to seek information regarding Liu JingXi’s claims.
Xu BaiJiu’s assistant reports back from his investigation in LianZhou and he learns that Liu XinJi has been harboring a dark underworld secret about his background. He uncovers that a butcher family of Zhang was brutally murdered ten years earlier by the second-in-command of 72 Demons Clan named Tang Long. 72 Demon Clan is a dwindling Tanguts tribe, the former rulers of China’s neighboring XiXia Kingdom that was persecuted by the Han Chinese. They are a vicious and bloodthirsty survivor of the clan for whom rape, pillage and murderous are a way of life. Xu BaiJiu is convinced that Liu XinJi is Tang Long of the 72 Demons Clan. He immediately leaves Liu Village to obtain arrest warrant from his superior.
Back in the town, Xu BaiJiu’s superior refuses to grant arrest warrant citing lack of evidence. However, his superior is actually soliciting for a bribe. Xu BaiJiu eventually obtains the bribe funds from his estranged wife. Once the warrant is issued, Xu BaiJiu’s superior informs the Master of 72 Demons Clan (Jimmy Wang Yu) of Tang Long’s whereabouts in hoping to receive a reward. The fierce Master is offended and he reveals that Tang Long is actually his beloved son. He kills the official and he sends his wife, Shi San Niang (Kara Hui), along with a henchman, Xu Kun (Wan To-Shing), to Liu Village to capture Tang Long.
Shi San Niang and Xu Kun reach Liu Village before the arrival of Xu BaiJiu and the constables. At first, Liu JinXi refuses to acknowledge his identity and Shi San Niang begins to kill a villager in order to force him. The dark past of Tang Long begins to manifest and he can no longer hide under his assumed identity of Liu JinXi. Tang Long fights back. He kills both Shi San Niang and Xu Kun. By the time Xu BaiJiu arrives at Liu Village, the constables refuse to assist him after realizing the 72 Demons Clan will be waiting to ambush them. The constables suggest to let Tang Long and the 72 Demon Clans to resolve their own internal issue. They leave Xu JianXi alone in the village and they would only come back to collect Liu JinXi’s dead body.
The villagers take refuge in a fortress nearby to hide from the 72 Demons Clan while Xu BaiJiu devices a plan. Tang Long cooperates with Xu BaiJiu to feign his death so that the 72 Demons Clan will no longer pursue him or harass the villagers. Using Xu BaiJiu’s vast knowledge of physiology, Tang Long is put into a state of coma within specific time range. Xu BaiJiu will have to revive Tang Long no longer then the time allotted or it will be fatal. On their way to the town with the lifeless body of Tang Long, the 72 Demons Clan henchmen stop them. They lament over the death of Tang Long by surrounding the wagon. Xu BaiJiu becomes restless because the mourning ritual takes longer than he has anticipated. Xu BaiJiu knows he must revive Tang Long soon or he would be at a point of no return. At the same time, the Master of 72 Demons Clan goes to fortress to search for his grandson.
Out of desperation, Xu BaiJiu revives Tang Long. When Tang Long awakes, he immediately severs his left arm upon seeing his former 72 Demons Clan henchmen as a sign that he has formally broken all ties with them. His former men show sincere sadness from the renouncement. The 72 Demons Clan henchmen tell Tang Long to explain to his father himself at his house. Tang Long goes back to his house and he sees his father sits with his son, Liu XiaoTian, waiting for him for a meal. He knows his father has taken his family hostage.
The Master of 72 Demons Clan sees Tang Long with severed left arm. However, he will not accept Tang Long’s renouncement and he declares Liu XiaoTian’s life in exchange for his. In a rage, Tang Long quickly attacks his father in an attempt to save his son’s life. Although, Tang Long manages to hit his father with his broadsword, but his father’s formidable martial art is able to fend the blade from lacerating him. Meanwhile, Xu BaiJiu infiltrates the house through a hatch to assist Tang Long. He pierces the heel of Master of 72 Demons Clan with his acupuncture needle from underneath the floor. The Master is enraged and incapacitates Xu BaiJiu. The fight between father and son continue outside the house in heavy rain. Tang Long fights his father with all his might but to no avail. At the last second as the Master of 72 Demons Clan is about to deliver a deadly blow to Tang Long, Xu BaiJiu by surprise plants another needle into the Master’s neck. The Master of 72 Demons Clan is unfazed and mortally wounds Xu BaiJiu by slamming him hard to the ground. The needle on the Master’s neck acts as lightning rod and lightning strikes him. It kills the Master of 72 Demons Clan instantly. With his dying breath, Xu BaiJiu declares the case is closed. After the death of his father, Tang Long becomes Liu JinXi once more and lives happily with Ayu and their two sons.
Is it CSI: Yunnan? Peter Chan’s idea to show a gripping rational reality of martial art film blended with innovative spin western forensic science is imaginative. It succeeds. The latest action blockbuster directed and produced by Peter Chan paid homage to the golden age of Hong Kong martial art films through special appearances of legendary Jimmy Wang Yu and Kara Hui. This USD $20 million production of Wuxia (武侠) originally meant to be a remake of 1967 Chang Cheh’s “One Armed Swordsman” (獨臂刀) that propelled Jimmy Wang Yu into stardom in the 1960s. Peter Chan took a slightly different turn and made it into twist and turn murder mystery.
Albeit the flow of the film was quite slow in the beginning, but it unfolds into a well-rounded mix of action and drama when the characters’ scarred pasts, secrets and fears are revealed. Donnie Yen’s limitation as an actor is perfectly used by focusing into his mild-mannered character of Liu XinJi. In the meanwhile, the bespectacled Takeshi Kaneshiro turns in a multifaceted performance as Xu BaiJiu that allows the audience to empathize with his predicament. The last time Tang Wei created a buzz on the silver screen, many men north of Hong Kong suffered nose-bleed which resulted in her banishment. There are no breathtaking scenes for Tang Wei, though underused, she was poignant with her role as Ayu. Did we mention she looked cute in her Yunnan’s traditional garb? Veteran Kara Hui cameo further reinforced on screen presence with her martial art prowess as an assassin. And the legendary Jimmy Wang Yu showed great menace and commanding screen presence as well.
Wuxia boasts a fascinating story and impressive cinematography of rural ethnic Yunnan countryside. Donnie Yen did excellent choreographed martial art actions. It’s exciting and at the same time boldly violent. Wuxia is not in the traditional sense of the genre, it’s rather rendered to creative action detective drama. The original mainland China’s Mandarin version had Takeshi Kaneshiro dialogues in Sichuanese dialect which is one of the most amusing about the film. Overall, Wuxia is solid and entertaining.
Donnie Yen … Liu JinXi/Tang Long
Takeshi Kaneshiro … Xu BaiJiu
Tang Wei … Ayu, Liu’s wife
Jimmy Wang Yu … The Master of 72 Demons
Kara Hui … Shi San Niang, 13th Madam (the Master’s wife)
Li XiaoRan … Xu’s estranged wife
Jiang Wu … Xu’s investigator
Li JiaMin … Liu XiaoTian
Zheng Wei … Liu FangZheng
Wan To-Shing … Xu Kun
Chun Hyn … The tavern owner
Ethan Ruan Jing Tian … Young convict
Yu Kang … Yan DongSheng
Chinese Title: 武俠
Director: Peter Chan
Screenplay: Aubrey Lam, Joyce Chan
Producer: Peter Chan, Jojo Hui Yuet Chun, Qin Hong, Li Zhou, Alan Zhang, Huang JianXin
Director of Photography: Jake Pollock, Lai Yiu Fai
Action Choreographer: Donnie Yen, Yan Hua, Kenji Tanigaki
Art Director: Yee Chung Man, Sun Li
Image Designer: Dora Ng
Composer: Chan Kwong Wing, Peter Kam, Chatchai Pongprapahan
Soundtrack: Dou Wei (Wanderer)
Filming Locations: Yunnan Province, China
Release Date: July 28, 2011
Run Time: 1 hour 56 minutes
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