Before watching Director Peter Ho-sun Chan’s latest movie, Wu Xia, starring Donnie Yen, I expected to watch a typical martial arts movie. Contrary to my expectations, the movie is a fascinating fusion of a detective story, forensic science, action, humor, politics and family drama.
Wu Xia is a gripping story about the dark side of human nature. There are several intriguing things that are worth nothing. First, Detective Xu Baijiu believes that the law is more important than humanity. His blind obedience to the law contrasts sharply with the corrupt officials accepting bribes, which is a political satire. Please note what happens to the villain at the end, which ridicules the unscrupulous legal system invented by humans. Second, the difference between humans and animals is highlighted. Please note that cows, horses, flies and worms are shown in the movie and respect for animals is emphasized. Moreover, in a fighting scene, Kara Hui’s character can be seen through a cow’s eye, which symbolically shows her ruthless character. Third, in some scenes, the candles glimmer in the darkness, which symbolically shows the struggle between good and evil in a human being.
Peter Chan and Oi-wah Lam have grasped the key to writing a good story. Indeed, three-dimensional characters are more important than fancy fight scenes, so they take their time developing the characters in the movie. Thanks to the capable cast, the well-crafted script, the restrained costumes and the breathtaking setting, most characters are lifelike. In the movie, Takeshi Kaneshiro gives the most memorable performance, considering his dual role as his good self and his dark self. Detective Xu Baijiu, whose biggest battle lies within, is torn between his conscience and his blind faith in the law. Also, his attempt to speak the Sichuan dialect is comical. As for Donnie Yen, he is charismatic and his action is well-choreographed. Still, he slightly underacts in the crying scene and the one in which he kills the butcher and his children. Playing ruthless villains, Yu Wang and Kara Hui deliver flawless performances. Their characters, albeit monochrome, look eerily menacing.
As for my suggestions for improvement, some insignificant details can be trimmed and Liu Jin-xi’s change can be further developed. Despite these minor flaws, the movie grabs me from beginning to end, not only because of the adrenalin-pumping action, but also the well-developed characters that the audience cares about. Featuring a creative mix of different genres as well as a fine balance between drama and action, Wu Xia is so far the best Hong Kong movie I have watched in 2011.