Apr 25, 2012

SFIFF55: Wu Xia Attacks from Many Angles

9:02 AM

Photo by We Pictures Limited. Courtesy of San Francisco Film Society.
Plot? Who needs plot?

Nearly all the great kung-fu flicks of the '70s and '80s featured thin plots revolving around revenge. Cast a charismatic hero with fists of fury and a villain with evil written all over his face, then hire a great choreographer: you had yourself a possible classic on your hands.

Now that the "advancement" of technology and special effects are such a crutch, the audience needs more. Your shaky cam makes us sick. Your CGI-assisted stunts make us yawn. Unless you're really raising the action bar (everyone take a moment to salute The Raid: Redemption), plot is a must. So thank god for director Peter Chan and screenwriter Aubrey Lam, who delivered the excellently layered Wu Xia to the San Francisco International Film Festival for Friday and Monday screenings.

Synopsis time: Liu Jinxi (Donnie Yen) is a man living a modest life in 1917 China with his family of four. After Liu heroically thwarts a robbery by one of China's most wanted criminals, a particularly astute private investigator named Xu Baijiu (Takeshi Kaneshiro) starts checking into Liu's past.

Like any good cop, Xu must deal with his deep-seeded quandaries about the philosophies of law and justice while pursuing information about Liu. His investigation mimics the audience's viewing experience – he picks away the petals of Liu just as we slowly figure out what this film is really about. As a result, Wu Xia remains unpredictable without resorting to a series of forced red herrings.

Final verdict: It's not scheduled for any more SFIFF screenings, but you should definitely see it if it pops back up in U.S. theaters or DVD/blu-ray.

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