Showing posts with label Donnie Yen. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Donnie Yen. Show all posts

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Donnie Yen's Dragon (aka Wu Xia): Watch It

Donnie Yen's latest martial arts film was recently released in the US under the relatively uninformative title DRAGON, a title that brings to my mind thoughts of Bruce Lee and his many classic kung fu films.  It is also a title that does a disservice to the film.  As awe inspiring as Bruce Lee was as a performer, using any of Lee's major works as a reference point is completely off base as the vast majority of Lee's films were of a different film genre than DRAGON.

DRAGON follows in the wuxia tradition in which martial artists live in the world of jiang hu and are inexorably trapped within an epically tragic tale, often a romantic tale.  Think CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON and you are on the right track.  But DRAGON, directed by Peter Ho-Sun Chan, brings in elements of American Film Noir to the traditional tragic fantasy elements of a typical wuxia film.    DRAGON begins as a murder mystery of a kind, a murder mystery that reveals that Liu Jin-xi (Donnie Yen) is more than the humble paper maker he appears to be.  It is a mystery that ends in proper wuxia tragedy.  It is a heartfelt film with fine emotional beats, even if the martial arts themselves don't quite live up to the remarkable high standards Yen has set of late.  This isn't to say the film isn't beautiful, it is, rather that this isn't a rapid paced actioner.  This is a film of investigations, fear of the loss of a mundane life, and tragedy.  It has some echoes of the Shaw Brothers classic ONE ARMED SWORDSMAN, but is entirely its own creation.

Given the narrative tensions of the film, I wouldn't have marketed the film under the title DRAGON.  I would have based the title on the original title Wu Xia, a term that literally means "martial hero."  Given the connotations of honor in the phrase, I would have called the film AN HONORABLE MAN.  The title would then echo the tensions in the movie and provided context for potential viewers.  Is Liu Jin-xi an honorable man?  Has he always been an honorable man?  Will he leave the tale an honorable man?  These are the questions the audience faces as they watch the film.  They are questions worth asking and the investigations of Takeshi Kaneshiro's character answer only one of these questions.  The answer to the others are revealed through the subtleties of Donnie Yen's performance.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Donnie Yen's WU XIA to be Released in the US

Master martial arts stylist Donnie Yen will be featured in a remake of the classic martial arts film One Armed Swordsman later this year in a film entitled WU XIA (its American release title will be DRAGON).  Yen's work is consistently wonderful, and the story of One Armed Swordsman is quite compelling.  Our friend David Chute did commentary for a Dragon Dynasty release of the film a couple of years ago.  I recommend you go out and buy a copy.

The choice of Wu Xia as the title of the film can be translated a number of ways -- including "armed swordsman" -- but most of the translations infer a kind of moral code on the part of the hero.  Western readers have tales of chivalry and tragic sagas.  Chinese readers and viewers have wuxia tales of larger than life heroes who often seek to leave the "world of martial arts" behind them, only to be drawn back into a life of violence.  The films and stories are often deeply melodramatic and filled with wonderful commentary on the role of honor, romance, and justice.  It is no wonder that so many of these films get made, and remade.

The decision to call WU XIA by the title DRAGON in the US seems an odd one, and one that is hopelessly trapped in associating martial arts films with Bruce Lee and his legacy.  To be fair, Bruce Lee is one of the greatest martial arts stars the world has ever known.  But are American audiences so limited in their appreciation of the genre that they need a title like DRAGON to bring them in?

I think not.  The preview speaks for itself and demonstrates a combination of martial arts realism with a touch of wuxia wire work.  This looks to be an engaging and exciting film.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Wong Kar Wei and Tony Leung Chiu Wai Take on Ip Man with "The Grandmasters"

The Wilson Yip directed and Donnie Yen starring martial arts action film Ip Man is easily among the most entertaining martial arts films ever made.  Yen's charisma and mischievous smile -- and his prodigious martial arts talent -- combine to make his depiction of the Ip Man one of the pantheon of great kung fu lead characters.  It ranks right up there with Bruce Lee's character Lee in Enter the Dragon, Jackie Chan's portrayal of Wong Fei-hung in Drunken Master 2, and Jet Li's portrayal of Chen Zhen in the classic Fist of Legend.

Had you asked me within the first few moments after my first viewing of Ip Man if there could be another portrayal of the character as memorable as Yen's, I would have laughed at the thought.  Of course, I would have been overlooking the Hong Kong film industry's ability to make multiple films about the same character that all add some new interesting point of view -- a point of view worth experiencing.

Jet Li's characterizations of Wong Fei-hung are as wonderful as Jackie Chan's, though the portrayals are very different.  Bruce Lee, Jet Li, and Donnie Yen have all portrayed Chen Zhen in dynamic and exciting films that each have a different feel politically and aesthetically.  Ip Man itself shares many features with the story of Chen Zhen.

If Hollywood were to release as many films about the same subjects and same characters as the Hong Kong industry does, critics would write screeds about the lack of originality in the industry.  One's first thought might be to agree with such critics, and extend that assumption to Hong Kong film makers.   Such an assumption would be wrong.  The Hong Kong film industry has demonstrated with films like Fist of Legend, Legend of the Fist, and Fist of Fury (aka The Chinese Connection) that it is entirely possible to get tremendous variation, depth of vision, and creative interpretation while making multiple films about the same subject.

All of which explains why I can be so excited when I hear that Wong Kar Wei and Tony Leung Chiu Wai have worked together to create their own version of the Ip Man story, even while loving the Yip and Yen production.  I cannot wait to see this film.

h.t. to David Chute