‘Dragon’ (‘Wu Xia’) is best seen on the big screen

Donnie Yen in ‘Dragon’

Wuxia is a genre of Chinese fiction.  Generally we in the West think of it as “martial hero”, although that’s not a precise translation.  Wu Xia on the other hand, is the Chinese title of a film titled Dragon in English.  It’s an excellent representation of the genre, making up for the only average fighting sequences by adding elements of superb character development and a bit of CSI-like forensic detective work.

Pet“Liu Jinxi” (Yen) is a simple papermaker in a quiet village where he lives with his wife “Ayu” (Wei) and two children.  One is hers from a prior marriage and the other is theirs.  He is in the village’s general store when two criminals come in and attempt a robbery.  Reluctantly, Jinxi intervenes.  His clumsy efforts to stop the robbers are successful and somehow both of the thieves wind up dead.  He is hailed as a hero, but when a detective named “Xu Baijiu” (Kaneshiro) shows up, he determines that one of the two men was a wanted murderer who had escaped from police custody.  More interestingly, he was a highly skilled assassin and Baijiu wonders just how this simple papermaker could overcome such a man.

Takeshi Kaneshiro searches for clues in 'Dragon' ('Wu Xia')
Takeshi Kaneshiro searches for clues in ‘Dragon’ (‘Wu Xia’)

Using deductive reasoning and visualizations that would be hailed by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle himself, Baijiu determines that in fact, Jinxi is an incredibly talented martial artist and may well be a criminal himself.  As he investigates inconsistencies in Jinxi’s history, he becomes more and more convinced of this fact.  It should be noted that early in his career, Baijiu showed mercy to a young criminal and released him, after which he went home and poisoned his parents, killing them. Baijiu also ate that meal but somehow survived.  Now the law is his lodestone and he leaves no criminal free.

It turns out that Jinxi is really “Tang Long”, son of the leader of a ruthless group known as the “72 Demons”.  “The Master” (Wang Yu) wants his son back and dispatches people to retrieve him at any cost.  Meanwhile, Baijiu has obtained a warrant for Tang Long’s arrest.

Donnie Yen delivers swift kick in 'Dragon' ('Wu Xia')
Donnie Yen delivers swift kick in ‘Dragon’ (‘Wu Xia’)

Yen is better as the actor portraying this tormented man than he is as the film’s fight choreographer.  As stated previously, the action sequences are adequate but no better than that. What saves them is the terrific effects used to illustrate the impact of certain blows on people during these combat sequences, and the excellent commentary concerning some of them by Kaneshiro’s Baijiu.  Chan is a director who gets the most from his cast while delivering excellence in visual presentation, and he uses some lush areas to their best effect as scenic backdrops.  While not a remake or reimagination of The One-Armed Swordsman, it is clearly an homage to that outstanding movie.  Considering that the name of Bruce Lee’s character in Way of the Dragon was also named “Tang Long”, that is probably an homage as well.

This is a film that is best seen on a big screen with the best in sound, to get the most out of the excellent visual and audio.

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