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Review: ‘Dragon (Wu Xia)’

Donnie Yen Scores Another Martial Arts Winner

Donnie Yen in action in

Credit: The Weinstein Company

Above: Donnie Yen in action in "Dragon."

KPBS arts reporter Beth Accomando reviews "Dragon."


This weekend, you can catch martial arts star Donnie Yen in "Dragon" (opening November 30 at Reading Gaslamp Stadium Theaters). The film mixes genres to good effect.

With Jackie Chan and Jet Li getting older and finding more lucrative work in the US, Donnie Yen (who's not exactly a young lad ay 49) has taken over the title as Asia's top martial arts star. As an actor and action choreographer, he's given us some of the best action films of the last decade including "Ip Man," "SPL," and "Flashpoint." He's also distinguished himself as different from Chan and Li. His films tend to be more serious and gritty than Chan's often lighthearted antics, and Yen does not serve up as clean cut a hero as Li usually does.

In "Dragon," he shares the screen with Takeshi Kaneshiro ("House of Flying Daggers," "Chungking Express") for a film that blends period martial arts with procedural detective thriller, clan fighting, and family drama. Yen plays Liu Jinxi, a quiet family man and papermaker. He inadvertently draws attention to himself when he prevents a robbery by killing a pair of thugs. The deaths bring detective Xu Bai-jiu (Kaneshiro) who insists that one cannot let emotions or empathy cloud judgement especially when it comes to murder. He suspects that Jinxi is more than just the quiet citizen he seems.

As action choreographer, Yen has fun with the action sequences. The first fight depicts his Jinxi character as a less than impressive opponent and as one who succeeds more through luck than skill. But at one point Xu Bai-jiu replays a fight for us, walking us through the encounter point by point, and stopping and even reversing the action so that we can re-examine what happened and decide if Jinxi is merely an accidental hero or something more ominous. The latter seems to be the case and at a ceremony to honor him as a hero he gets a violent reminder of his past clan connections. There are echoes of David Cronenberg's "A History of Violence" here in terms of the main character Jinxi and the way his life is thrown into upheaval by violence he cannot seem to escape.

"Dragon" is a action film that raises questions about karma, fate, and our ability to change our natures. The film mixes some flashy CGI effects with highly stylized fight choreography. For the most part the action mixes well with the philosophizing and the film only falters in the final act.

You can chalk up "Dragon" (rated R for violence and in Mandarin with English subtitles) as another win for Yen and for action fans who like some solid drama with their martial arts.

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