Director: Peter Chan
Starring: Donnie Yen, Takeshi Kaneshiro, Wei Tang, Jimmy Wang Yu, Kara Hui, Wu Jiang
Plot: Liu Jinxi (Yen) is a papermaker living a quiet life in Liu village until one day when he kills two bandits attempting to rob the general store. Despite being regarded as a hero by the village he raises the suspicion of detective Xu Bai-Jiu (Kaneshiro) who begins to suspect that Liu is not who he says he is.
Review: While his name might leap out to most but Director Peter Chan certainly as a producer has been responsible for some of the best titles of 90’s and 00’s Hong Kong cinema including “The Eye”, “Three Extremes” and “The Warlords” he even produced the underrated John Woo movie “Heroes Shed No Tears”. Here though he equally proves himself once more to be no slouch in the directing chair either with this visually stunning martial arts movie which not only plays like Cronenberg’s “A History of Violence” set in 1917 but also provides yet another showcase for the jaw dropping martial arts skills of Donnie Yen who also handles the action choreography here.
While the film does have a pretty big twist, if you’ve seen “A History of Violence” you will know what to expect here, but just to cover ourselves lets just say *spoilers ahead*
As with its Cronenberg counterpart when we meet Yen’s character of Liu he is just a family man living a simple quiet life in the village with nothing to give us any indication that he is anything than just another villager working at the paper mill. Of course this is another story much like “First Blood” were it would be a much shorter film if it wasn’t was for the persistence of one sheriff in this case detective Xu who is seemingly half Rottweiler as once he gets it into his head that Liu might not be who he seems, he hounds him mercilessly. Even when the local magistrate tells him to let it go he continues his investigation which only becomes all the more ludicrous as it goes on with him believing that Liu is secretly a martial arts master and hence attempts to test him by knocking him off a bridge and hitting him with a knife believing that he would be able to defend himself using his Chi ability.
Of course when we do get the big reveal things quickly spiral out of control with Xu no doubt wishing that he hadn’t poked this beehive with Liu being revealed to be the former second-in command for the psychotic warrior clan the 72 Demons. Detective Xu’s belief that no criminal can change their ways brought about by an incident in his past really adds to this twist as from the audiences perspective we just want Liu to live his life hassle free but Xu at the same time maintains that nagging issues of if he could really have changed. Still Chan decides that the best way to show this in the film is by having Liu’s former clan show up looking for him which is also lead by his father played here by the legendary Jimmy Wang Yu who here is on top evil form.
Despite being a Donnie Yen movie, here the action is for the first half actually pretty restrained with his showdown with the two bandits being the sole action scene we get. This is hardly a disappointment though as like all the action sequences here it is stunningly shot and only added to by the replays we see Xu playing out in his head as he tries to figure out who Liu really is. When the 72 demons show up though the action seriously ramps up though despite seemingly being setup to have Liu and Xu taking on the 72 demons instead Donnie Yen restrains the action so that its kept to small groups and intricate choreography which really pays off while complemented further by some inventive camera work which only adds to these sequences.
The final showdown between Donnie Yen and Jimmy Wang Yu really is a piece of fanboy wish fulfilment to see these two masters finally squaring off. The fact that Yen is fighting him one armed really only adds to the sequence by giving us a homage of sorts to Yu’s role as “The One Armed Swordsman”. How he comes to loose said arm is perhaps one of the more random and baffling aspects of the film but by the time we get to this final showdown your hardly caring about such minor issues. Jimmy Wang Yu here though is on top evil form and the tension is really cranked up in the build up to this showdown which only make the pay off only the more sweet.
A fantastic martial arts movie combined with enjoyable thriller elements make this a film well worth checking out, while Peter Chan’s eye for detail and use of slow motion really only heightens the film above being just another run of the mill kung fu movie while making you wonder why Donnie Yen still hasn’t been snapped up by the Hollywood system the same way as his predecessors but then do we think he would get the freedom to make films like this there like he does within the Hong Kong studio system.