New spin on martial arts

New spin on martial arts

Hongkong kung fu movie star Donnie Yen (right) is shown in a scene from Wu Xia.

HONG Kong film maker Peter Chan seems to have a strong brotherhood complex which has impelled him, after many years of making romantic love tales, to aim his lens at the inside world of grassroots heroes in extraordinary times.

"Wu Xia," or "The Swordsmen," is Chan's latest offering following "The Warlords" (2007) and "Bodyguards and Assassins" (2009), both dealing with brotherhood and chivalrous heroism. But in "Wu Xia," he depicts brotherhood in a new creative way while giving martial arts films a new spin and definition.

The film starring Donnie Yen, Takeshi Kaneshiro and Tang Wei is set in 1917 in a tranquil and beautiful little village in Yunnan Province. A detective's investigation reveals the true identity of a papermaker, who turns out to be a kung fu master. However, it poses a disaster for the village.

The martial arts master with a sinful past who longs for a peaceful existence finds himself chased by both the detective and his ruthless former master. It conforms to an old Chinese adage: "The trees may prefer calm but the wind will not subside."

Kaneshiro, famous for his flowery and melancholic roles showcases another facet of his charm in the film - wit and humor. He plays the detective who speaks in a fluent Sichuan dialect.

From his unique physiology and traditional Chinese medicine perspective, as well as the CSI-style analysis, the illusory Chinese martial arts are demystified by the detective.

For instance, viewers are clearly shown the process of bone fracture and how the kung fu master kills his enemy with a finger tap causing a quick clot in a blood vessel. The film also features many close-ups of human organs and nerves.

Despite his cold, indifferent appearance, the detective is actually a sympathetic man who finally protects the kung fu master and helps him return to his peaceful family life at the cost of his own life.

Yen plays the kung fu master who feels guilty for his past atrocity while Tang portrays his wife, a woman who used to be emotionally hurt. But regretfully neither of them surpass previous performances in this film.

Another highlight of the film is the poetic landscape and folk culture of Yunnan Province. Director Chan has also included folk songs, regional operas and paper-making methods to some scenes, adding a distinctive flavor to the film.

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