A day before I saw Peter Chan's Wu Xia last Sunday, I was having dinner with a bunch of other filmmakers. AT THE END OF DAYBREAK director Ho Yuhang, who had seen the film, said this:
"Wu Xia is sort of like a remake of a famous film by a Canadian director, but I won't tell you which one since it'll spoil you."
I tried to guess which film would he be talking about.
Names of Canadian directors materialized in my mind.
Obvious ones like David Cronenberg and Atom Egoyan... I didn't think it would be Xavier Dolan.
When I went to see Wu Xia, I was a little worried because I knew that I would be seeing the Cantonese version, instead of the original Mandarin/ Sichuan-ese version.
Somehow, many films meant to be in Mandarin are shown in Cantonese over here in Malaysia. Totally diminishing my enjoyment. I can still remember cringing badly when I first saw CROUCHING TIGER HIDDEN DRAGON (where Chow Yun Fat sounded like an old dude), CURSE OF THE GOLDEN FLOWER (where Chow Yun Fat sounded much older), FEARLESS (Jet Li speaking with the low-pitched manly Wong Fei Hung voice) and the recent Donnie Yen-starrer THE LOST BLADESMAN (which I think would have been infinitely more interesting if I could actually listen to Jiang Wen speak in his original voice as Cao Cao... not in Lau Ching Wan-dubbed Cantonese).
(clicking to the links lead you to my reviews of those films. Long ago, when I was just a directionless student, I used to write film reviews on this blog. Turned out that in each review, I complained about the Cantonese dub, haha)
But turned out that the version I saw wasn't that bad, with Donnie Yen and Takeshi Kaneshiro actually dubbing their own lines in Cantonese. (the original film had Kaneshiro actually speaking in Sichuanese, which probably made his character even more eccentric) And some scenes retained their Mandarin lines. So everything felt more authentic.
Director Peter Chan has an impressive filmography. Some of his films from the 90s are among the greatest of Hong Kong cinema. Imagine making a film like COMRADES, ALMOST A LOVE STORY in 1996, that would have been considered the peak of anyone's career. HE AIN'T HEAVY, HE'S MY FATHER is one of my favourite time-traveling films ever.
His last two attempts had been attempts to foster Pan-Asian ties, spectacular looking blockbusters that had some of their flaws. I kinda liked PERHAPS LOVE (2005), was initially awed by THE WARLORDS (2007) before losing interest due to its heavy-handedness.
What he had done as a producer should not be overlooked as well, his company UFO had came up with a lot of critically and commercially acclaimed films in the 90s (even today, "sigh, I wish there were some HK films that were like those UFO films" is something I complained about often) he was the one who put the Pang brothers on the map with THE EYE, and that he produced the smash hit BODYGUARDS AND ASSASSINS two years ago, which featured the greatest Leon Lai performance ever.
As for WU XIA, I think it is better than his last two films. Didn't get lost in its own spectacle, it's more consistent, and it's quite a loving homage to wuxia genre. It's probably the best Hong Kong film of the year.
Read Golden Rock's review of Wu Xia on Lovehkfilm.com, in which he said
"Wu Xia works better on a dramatic level rather than a visceral one because of how well the filmmakers tell the story. There are only three major action set pieces in Wu Xia, but each of them represents a major turning point in the story. The action in Wu Xia may be sparse in comparison to recent martial arts films, but the fight scenes are far more accomplished because Chan makes the action serve the story rather than the other way around.
However, Wu Xia‘s story has already been told many times in different genres. As Chan admits in interviews, his film is a stylistic exercise that stresses form over content."
So yes, this brings me back to finally guessing which film Yuhang was referring to.
(SPOILERS.... skip the rest of the blog post if you don't want to know ANYTHING about Wu Xia)
It didn't take me long. During the first set piece, when Donnie Yen's character tries to foil a robbery attempt in his workplace.
Immediately, I went "AHA! He must be talking about David Cronenberg's 'A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE'".
By no means am I pointing out that A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE is groundbreaking for its 'Just-when-I-thought-I-was-out-they-pull-me-back-in' plot. The story had been done before, but the execution was different.
Let's face it, last year's REIGN OF ASSASSINS (I enjoyed it too) had a somewhat similar plot.
But A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE and WU XIA?
Look at this synopsis:
- A family man with a loving wife and two kids foils a robbery at his workplace, killing two of the robbers in the middle of a confused struggle.
- He is lauded a hero.
- His past catches up with him when more bad people from his past arrives (during the mid-point of the film), the bad people hold people dear to him as hostage, threatening their lives until the protagonist is willing to admit whom he was. Protagonist gets injured, but he kills the attackers while revealing his past. (confirming audience's suspicions)
- In the end, our protagonist fights the Big Bad, who is actually his own father / ... or a brother who is like a father to him.
- Epilogue. He tries to return to a normal life. The film ends at his home, with his family.
The above works for both A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE and WU XIA (but not really for REIGN OF ASSASSINS, despite the similar plot).