Dragon (Wu Xia) Blu-ray Review
When DRAGON (Wu Xia) arrived in my mailbox, I was worried it was going to be another cheap martial arts/CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON knockoff. The red case and simple premise really don’t do the film justice, though, and I’m quite pleased to say that I was mistaken. DRAGON is actually a very good movie. I’m sorry to say it isn’t great, but it comes very, very close. Martial artist Donnie Yen, who you might recognize from BLADE II, is incredibly well suited to the role of Liu Jin-xi, a quiet family man who somehow stops two noted criminals from robbing the general store in his town.
When a detective comes to investigate the deaths of the two robbers, both of whom were killed during their fight with Jin-xi, we are suddenly presented with a very different version of events. Detective Xu Bai-Jiu (Takeshi Kaneshiro) has studied martial arts and knows his history and he quickly puts together a theory about our peaceful Jin-xi… could he be the missing son of the most powerful crime syndicate in the country, missing since orchestrating a terrible massacre and killing many, many innocent people? Is it possible this loving man from this tiny town could be an incredible and terrible warrior?
Acting in a subtitled film can be hard to gauge but I found myself often watching the actors and their emotive expressions sometimes instead of diligently reading the subtitles. In preparing this review, I’ve actually re-viewed some moments of the film several times just because I thought they were so great. DRAGON (WU XIA) was expertly cast. Everyone from the central cast outward plays their part incredibly well. Yen and Kaneshiro are both strong in their roles and Yu Wang (who plays The Master) lends a gravity and terror to his scenes that is almost overwhelming.
Like many martial arts flicks, the real star of DRAGON (WU XIA) is the martial arts. Every single shot during the fight scenes is lovingly and beautifully crafted. You have to hand it to Peter Chan, the filmmaker who brought us THE WARLORDS (2007), as he has certainly stepped up his game. DRAGON (WU XIA) doesn’t spend too much time on the premise, but that’s a good thing considering the story is probably one you have seen a hundred times before. But the movie has some incredible moments, and DRAGON (WU XIA) is presented so beautifully and with such a kick to the pants attitude it really made its way into my heart.
The only problem with the film is with the non-action scenes, which are the majority of the film. DRAGON (WU XIA) spends a lot of time building backstory and character through exposition, a little too much time for my taste. Instead of showing us the progression of events that drove us to this point, there is a lot of talk about past actions… and the pace really suffers. The first act is a very nice balance of action and dialogue, and the final act is a nearly perfect demonstration of filmmaking in this genre, but it’s REALLY hard to get there. The second act is just too slow and offers so little gratification that DRAGON (WU XIA) almost misses the mark. If you can make it through, you are in for a treat. I highly recommend this film, though the Blu-ray misses some of the special features that might elevate it to “must have” status.
Video: (1080p, 2.4:1 Widescreen) The video presentation is beautiful and DRAGON (WU XIA) really shines in the slow motion martial arts sequences. They shot some of them at 500 frames per second, and the care with which many images were crafted is easily seen.
Audio: (English DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1) The audio is equally impressive on the DRAGON (WU XIA) Blu-ray. Some sections are really quiet but it works. Overall a tremendous presentation.
The Making of DRAGON (22:27) The DRAGON (WU XIA) Blu-ray features eight quick “making of” snippets focusing on all kinds of aspects of the film. Yen, Chan, and the rest of the cast share their experience with enthusiasm that you might find disconcerting if they didn’t come across as so genuine. All-in-all, a nice feature.
Featurettes with Donnie Yen (05:40) Three featurettes chronicle additional aspects of the film. These are just deeper dives into the technical aspects of the film. Includes Staging the Action, Influences and Inspiration, and On Set, On Location. These are all in English with Donnie Yen talking about his experiences on DRAGON (WU XIA) while we see footage from the film.
“Lost In Jianghu” Music Video (05:14) The theme from DRAGON (WU XIA) is presented here in music video form. Somewhere between a trailer and a music video, the video quality is poor but it is kind of interesting to see this presentation.