Dragon (Wu-Xia) Movie Review – Fans of Donnie Yen and his performance in a 2008 martial arts favorite, ‘Ip Man’, be warned – ‘Dragon (Wu-Xia)’, originally released in 2011, is a slightly more subdued, though serene addition to the martial arts film genre. The whole premise of the story is that a gifted martial artist with a dark past (Donnie Yen) has since found peace in a secluded village where he marries and has two children; thus the general feel of the film is expectedly relaxed.. at least for the first half. ‘Dragon’ starts right off with a brief struggle that leaves two men dead and Yen’s character (Liu Jin-xi) recognized as a local hero. The tranquility of Liu’s life is put to the test when a brutally determined detective, played by Takeshi Kaneshiro, seeks to uncover Liu’s mysterious past after the incident. Inevitably of course, this meddling around in personal affairs leads to dire consequences that puts the entire village in danger.
The performances from Yen and Kaneshiro are strong and, needless to say, the action from Yen in nothing short of amazing… there just isn’t much of it. The involvement of the detective character drives the plot through half of the film, but then there’s a sudden shift of focus in plot, bringing attention away from deeper performances and leading to the somewhat predictable conflict and finale. This leaves one feeling as though the connection between Liu and the detective wasn’t fully explored before things get caught in a whirlwind of various character intros and brief, but strong, fight scenes.
The imagery is beautiful, mostly taking place in a village hidden in the depths of mountains covered in lush greenery. Though the action offers little material we haven’t seen before, I appreciated the minimal use of wires (a technical trick popularized with ‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’). Ironically, the detective himself seems more complex and curious than any other character – unfortunately, there’s some confusion and no real explanation regarding his complex mental state. ‘Dragon‘ is pretty standard fare in the martial arts arena and is just enjoyable enough to watch at least once… though I doubt it will gain the notoriety that ‘Ip Man‘ found with the legions of martial arts fans. It is, however, very well made and rather poetic, if that counts for anything.