Thursday, June 6, 2013

Dragon (Wu Xia)

Directed by Peter Chan.
2011. Rated R, 115 minutes.
Takeshi Kaneshiro
Wei Tang
Yu Wang
Kara Hui
Wu Jiang
Yu Kang
Li Jia-Min
Zheng Wei
Xiao Ran Li

As per the overwhelming norm, our story takes place in a small quite village in China. Our hero, Liu Jin-Xi (Yen), lives a nice life with his wife Ah Yu (Tang), and their two boys. He’s a prized employee at the local paper factory and couldn't be happier. One day, a couple of thugs show up to rob his place of employment. After a spectacular struggle, the bad guys end up dead. The police and the mayor show up. Detective Xu Bai-Jiu (Kaneshiro) suspects our hero is hiding something. He’s right. The rest of the next two acts play out as a police procedural, with the detective figuring out what Liu’s past discretions may have been and working on a way to bring him to justice for them. So far, so good.

To be honest, it is really good to this point. There’s very little in the way of martial arts, but the dynamic between the two men is intriguing. The inspector has some problems of his own, is exceedingly cynical and has an existentialist thing going on where he routinely has out-of-body experiences. It works much better than it sounds. Meanwhile, Liu is growing more suspicious of the cop but bravely keeps up a happy veneer despite some of the highly questionable tactics used by the detective. It’s a well-played cat-and-mouse intertwined with a cute family story. And yes, it’s working toward all the fighting. So far, so good.

Unsurprisingly, it turns out some very bad people are after our hero. With all the fuss the inspector has raised, Liu’s location has come to their attention. Of course, the leader of this group, the 72 Demons, dispatches two of their own to bring Liu to him. They show up in town, he refuses to go with them and an amazing battle sequence takes place that involves leaping across rooftops, cows and a waterfall into a raging river. After he defeats these two we’re next told what we already know: The 72 demons won’t stop until they've either gotten Liu or killed him. Whew! Now the scene is set for way more kung-fu. So far, so good.

Okay, there’s been some questionable science going on this whole time. Chiefly, it involves being able to kill someone with one blow to the vagus nerve. Since this is pretty standard martial arts stuff, no big deal. However, it sets us up for what eventually derails the movie. I won’t go into detail on what that is. I’ll just say  that our hero twice, purposely hampers his ability to fight before the battle even starts. It’s so far beyond dumb, I was taken completely out of the movie because everything before this is fairly smart.

You know how sometimes when things are going great, something ridiculous happens that ruins your whole day. Dragon is a microcosm of that experience. I sat down to watch a martial arts flick. I’m not so naive, or stuffy, to think I’d be witnessing a deeply human experience. After all, I grew up on this stuff. I wanted to see Donnie Yen kick some ass, whether or not lots of wire work is involved. He does and it is, but I was still sorely disappointed. The action that closes the movie isn't bad, but by then I didn't care anymore. And the night was going so well.

MY SCORE: 5.5/10

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