Wu Xia (2011)
Reviewed by: ewaffle on 2013-06-07
There are some fundamental questions concerning the human condition raised in Peter Chan’s “Wu Xia”: can a man control his destiny or is he always subject to the endless cycles of karma; can excessive emotions (such as the profligate sense of empathy felt by Detective Xu Bai-Jiu) be tamed or will they always get in the way of rational thought; is the law a universally accepted system of rules and guidelines that govern behavior or is it a malleable construct that reflects the time, place and power relations present when it was created. None of the questions get answered in the movie, which makes sense because they are raised in the first place to justify acts of murder, mass slaughter, betrayal or pillage that the questioner plans to carry out.

So thematically “Wu Xia” is all over the place—not that important since the narrative is anchored with the terrific extended fight scene that kicks things off. The only question that counts is asked by Xu Bai-Jiu: “What kind of man are you Liu Jin-Xi?”

Liu Jin-Xi seems to be a papermaker who gets up early every day to start the breakfast tea for his wife and two children, packs his tools and heads off to work at his one man operation in town. He is respected and well liked—one of the town elders remarks that business for many merchants have picked up due to so many people coming to buy his excellent paper. Things change—completely—when he stumbles into a robbery at the local general store. Two criminals are terrorizing the shopkeeper and his wife, demanding money. Almost forced to intervene after cowering in fright (or something) for a while, Liu Jin-Xi stops the crime and kills the ringleader although he looks clumsy and dangerous only to himself while doing so. It turns out the dead robber is a fugitive. The local nabob is happy since he can take credit for the dead bandit and the citizens of the town are thrilled to have a newly discovered protector. Ah Yu is happy since her son is about to be inducted into official adulthood and given adult clothing by the village. A good day for everyone until the bespectacled detective shows up.

Xu Bai-Jiu has a very useful gift for an investigator—while listening to a description of a crime (or in this case a disrupted crime and what appears to be a justified killing in self-defense) and examining the crime scene he is able to reconstruct almost exactly what happened with one key aspect missing. He is unable to discern the emotions of the participants that so can’t tell what anyone was actually attempting to do—he can see what happened but has no idea why it happened.

“Wu Xia” moves seamlessly from extremely well done action to scenes of heightened suspense to lingering but never too long views of the quietly spectacular setting that surrounds the village. Jimmy Wang Yu dominates every scene he is in—it is a great short role, full of rage, cunning and always bordering on total insanity. Kara Hui is a wonder, still slim as a knife blade, she looks very fit and as able to slash, punch and kick as well as she did thirty years ago. In what must be in homage to Wang Yu’s iconic role from the late 1960s and 1970s, Liu Jin-Xi chops off his arm and tells the Master’s lieutenant to deliver it to him. He didn’t have quite the flair of the original dismemberment however. In at least one of the “One Armed Swordsman” movies, Wang Yu cut off his arm which then, in defiance of the law of gravity, spun up into the air. As it fell, he pinned the offending limb to a fence with his sword.

This is a very well made film that both uses and updates the conventions of martial arts movies. It is almost perfectly paced with excellent performances from the entire cast.
Reviewer Score: 9