Wuxia - Film Review

Just saw an awesome new movie at the San Francisco International Film Festival by Peter Ho-Sun Chan, starring Donnie Yen titled Wuxia. A wuxia is a man or woman of extraordinary martial prowess. "Kungfu Hero" could have worked as a translation in a simpler time, but wuxia are generally capable of transcending conventional morality and their prowess can come from darker sources than just character and hard work. They tend to wander the lands of "rivers and lakes," the edges of society, the "bad lands," the wilds. And they often seem to take up a new name, wear a disguise, or impersonate an official. Sometimes they are loyal, sometimes they are cruel. They are chaos unleashed on civilization, at times tipping it out of balance, at other times putting things right. Their alliances, service, sworn brotherhoods, gangs, and grudges are of supreme consequence, the world teeters on their actions. Wuxia is actually a literary genre.
So now that we understand what wuxia is all about I can reveal the plot. No, no, that would spoil everything! All you need to know is that it takes place in 1917 and the lead bad guy has all the powers of one of the founders of the Boxer Rebellion. He is a super qijock, even metal blades can not puncture his qi egg! there is also a crazy smart guy who fights using acupuncture techniques!
The film has great costumes, sets, and props. That's important in a visceral movie like this one because you feel yourself inside their clothes, your grip on the handle of their swords, sweat on your brow, and acupuncture needle in your foot!

Warning: The acupuncture points used in this film are not only real, they are officially recognized legal causes of death!*

Seen as historical narrative, the film gives us a good sense of how a weak central government negotiated its position in relationship to gangs of toughs out in the provinces-- and by implication how important martial arts really were.

There are glimmers of religion visible here, obviously in the notions of chaos and order mentioned above, but also by showing the importance of lineage, decisions by family heads, the cult of scholarship, hints of ghostly presence, a seasonal martial display of opera generals, medicinal herbs, and the subtle image of hell on earth as a torture chamber where human flesh is consumed (and happens to be quite tasty, ha, ha, ha).

Total enjoyability aside, the film left me wondering about censorship.  It is not horror, that is clearly an illegal genre.  It is mostly a violent epic comedy, and as such fits well into the old Shaw Brothers Hong Kong legacy.  Perhaps it is a test of Hong Kong's right to make movies the way it used to?

Uggg!  IMBD is telling me that they plan to distribute this film in the USA under the title "Dragon." Why not just title it "Lame?" it makes about as much sense.

*note: (the wordpress plug-in Explanation Point Blocker tells me I've gone over my limit!!!)