Monday, December 5, 2011

Swordsmen (2011)

Swordsmen • Wu Xia (2011)
Swordsmen • Wu Xia • 武侠 (2011)

Genre: Martial Arts
Director: Peter Chan
Starring: Donnie Yen, Takeshi Kaneshiro, Tang Wei
Language: Mandarin, Sichuanese
Duration: 126 min.
Rating: 7.3  

In the late Qing Dynasty, Liu Jinxi is a papermaker and father of two sons who lives a seemingly normal life with his family in a remote village.  However, the arrival of a detective soon threatens to tear them apart...

Swordsmen is a film directed by Peter Chan.  It premiered out of competition, in the Midnight Screenings section of the 2011 Cannes Film Festival.  It recently won three awards at the 2011 Golden Horse Festival for Best Art Direction, Best Visual Effects, and Best Action Choreography.

The film is set in 1917 and follows Liu Jinxi (Donnie Yen), a papermaker who lives a quiet life with his wife (Tang Wei) and two sons in a small village in Southwestern China.  In a plot that will remind most Western audiences of David Cronenberg's A History of Violence; when two bandits arrive in the village and attempt to violently hold up the general store, Liu intercedes and ends up killing the two criminals.  This leads to him being branded the village hero, and also attracts unwanted attention from detective Xu Baijiu (Takeshi Kaneshiro) who is convinced that Liu Jinxi is not the lowly papermaker he claims to be. 

Taking a departure from the typical martial arts epic, Swordsmen is actually more like a dramatic detective thriller than your usual hack and slash heroic showcase.  It's an interesting twist and succeeds for the most part, with a stellar turn from the always impressive Kaneshiro, as the righteous lawman determined to uncover Liu's hidden past; and even Donnie Yen who isn't particularly known for his acting abilities, delivers what is likely his most convincing performance to date.

It starts off quite well, especially when the focus is on the investigation and mystery, and the story is carried by Kaneshiro's character, however things start to drag in the second hour when the film becomes more dramatic, perhaps asking too much from the rest of the cast.  I think the film would have been more interesting if it had remained centered on Xu Baijiu, who himself has a fascinating and complicated back story that begs for further exploration.

As expected, there are plenty of intense action sequences that are flawlessly choreographed by Yen, including some very impressively executed cramped-quarters fighting scenes.  It all looks spectacular too, thanks to director Peter Chan's slick visual style which takes full advantage of the natural beauty of the village and surroundings.  Though at times it feels a bit anachronistic with some of its CSI inspired investigative techniques, digitally created anatomic imagery, and the out-of-place modern electric guitar riffs punctuating the score.

All in all, Chan delivers an exciting and worthy film with enough action to please martial arts fans, and has a genre revitalizing concept that could appeal to general audiences as well. 

Bonjour Tristesse

Swordsmen • Wu Xia (2011)

Swordsmen • Wu Xia (2011)

Swordsmen • Wu Xia (2011)

Swordsmen • Wu Xia (2011)

Swordsmen • Wu Xia (2011)

Swordsmen • Wu Xia (2011)

Swordsmen • Wu Xia (2011)

Swordsmen • Wu Xia (2011)


Bonjour Tristesse said...

Yeah just slightly over the top, but stops short of being cheesy.

Bonjour Tristesse said...

Thanks.  If you like this type of film, you should love this one.

AIDY said...

Brilliant review! I am a tremendous fan of foreign film and especially Asian cinema. The film looks brilliantly interesting and I just have to add it to my watch list! Great review!

Michael Parent said...

It will go on my priority list!

Bonjour Tristesse said...

Yeah it does have some good effects.

G said...

looks very cool

The Angry Lurker said...

Definitely one to look out for...thanks.

d_4 said...

This one looks pretty interesting to me. It seems to have the right amount of action in it. Maybe they go a bit over the top with visuals (judging by the trailer alone) but I think I'll enjoy it.

FrontRoomCinema said...

Looks stunning

Electric Addict said...

look's awesome. love the slow motion effects and how can anyone not love swordsmen?

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