Watched Jun 11, 2012
For its first half an hour or so, Wu Xia sent me into a state of the purest popcorn bliss of any film in a long, long time. Since it features Takeshi Kaneshiro, one of my favorite living stars, yes, Wu Xia had me primed from the get-go, and pairing him with Donnie Yen to form a kind of mind/body dynamic duo struck me as inspired on more than one level. Even better, Yen's character is not just a fighter here but seems to be living a double life of sorts, which forces him to be wily, and while Kaneshiro is a cerebral, Holmesian investigator, he's one that specializes in the physical. Which means that all the potential dualities are criss-crossing and thereby even more intriguing--so far, so good, right? Plus: cool fight scenes, eye-popping visuals, and a deep, dark mystery tantalizingly hinted at. But in the second act's explication of that mystery and the third act's overly ambitious quest to explore the nature of capital "e" Evil itself, all that early promise is squandered. Simply put, Wu Xia goes off the rails badly, with an amputation scene that is meant to be operatic but comes across as contrived and vaguely insulting, and at one key point an otherwise impressive Jimmy Wang Yu uttering an animalistic cry that provoked chuckles in the screening I attended. In short, both director Peter Chan and screenwriter Lam Oi Wah just try waaaaay too hard, and after a while one gets the sense that they're attempting to top themselves every five minutes or so. Still probably required viewing for hardcore martial arts aficionados, Wu Xia is, sadly, not the classic it easily could have been.