Donnie Yen directs and stars in “SAKRA” | MOVIE REVIEW

Last Updated: April 21, 2023By Tags: ,

It has been nearly two decades since Donnie Yen last co-directed a film (2004’s “Protégé de la Rose Noire,” with Barbara Wong Chun-Chun). This year, Yen gets in front of and behind the camera with the new release “Sakra,” a martial arts action extravaganza based on Louis Cha’s epic wuxia novel “Demi-Gods and Semi-Devils.”

Co-directed by Kam Ka-Wai, “Sakra” finds Yen starring as Qiao Feng, orphan raised by a couple from the Song Empire who is at war with the Khitan (a minority of the Mongols) a sect of the Liao Empire, Qiao’s true heritage.

As a man, Qiao Feng leader of the Beggar’s Gang, a prideful sect of fierce martial artists. When Qiao is wrongfully accused of murdering a fellow beggar, a Shaolin monk, and even his own parents, he searches the countryside to clear his name and unlock the secrets of his past.

Though existing as a wuxia-styled action picture, the screenplay (from six different writers) is filled with emotion.

The film finds its beating heart in the relationship between Qiao and a young woman named Az Hu (a luminous Chen Yuqi). The two souls meet when Az Hu’s master orders her to steal a sacred scroll which leads to fight where she is badly hurt.

Qiao returns to The Heroes Gathering Manor to request the aid of the healer, as he is the only one who can save Az Hu. The battle which ensues is the finest in the film.

Qiao and his roomful of adversaries drink wine together, smashing their cups to put symbolic end to their former relationships thus clearing the slate for an emotionless battle.

The fight is a marvelous set piece of technique. The stunt work in the entire film is (as one would expect from Asian stunt teams) is fantastic. This moment contains Yen against many as blades slash, blood splatters, bones crush, and bodies fly. The inventiveness of this sequence is the film’s highlight.

There are many fight scenes held within “Sakra” and all are well done. The one hindrance being the mystical aspect of it all, which causes the use of CGI, and a lot of it.

I understand that one must accept that CGI has taken over filmmaking around the world, but it must be used sparingly. In this film, it is overused from time to time which steals the intended awe of many moments.

Donnie Yen and his stunt team give it their all and I stand by a claim I have made for almost thirty years; Yen is the fastest martial artist in cinema. The man is lightening fast. Although the legend is turning 60 this July, he doesn’t need the sped-up camera style occasionally used here. Donnie Yen is his own special effect.

The screenplay is sprawling and filled (overstuffed?) with many characters who give weight to the labyrinthine tale.

Two of the best being Kara Wai and Cya Liu.

Wai (a veteran of over 40 Shaw Brothers films) is great in a small but important role that spoilers prevent me from explaining.

Cya Liu adds fierce spark to Ah Zi, the sister of Ah Zhu. Ah Zi is a deadly accurate swordswoman who plays an important part in the film’s final act.

All of the performances work and the quieter scenes between Qiao and Az Hu have a believable romantic aura thanks to the chemistry between Yen and Chen Yuqi). Their sweet scene by a moonlit lake becomes a peaceful zen moment between two misunderstood souls whose fates (and hearts) are forever linked.

Cinematographer Chi-Ying Chan captures not only the emotions of that moment, but the widescreen power of the film’s Art Direction, courtesy of Liu Shi Yun.

“Sakra” is not a perfect film. There is the aforementioned overuse of CGI that clutters up a few fight scenes and an overloaded screenplay that occasionally slides into melodrama.

Added to these issues is a sloppy epilogue that explains Qiao’s origins (sort of), reveals the true villain, and sets up a second chapter.

While this will not go down as a Wuxia classic, the film is still exciting and (if you’re paying attention) holds an interesting story.

Donnie Yen claimed he would retire some years ago. Since that announcement, the actor started in the instant classic “Raging Fire”, gave the best performance of his career in the best film of the John Wick series (“John Wick: Chapter 4”), and has now given us a flawed but fun Martial Arts picture that proves age has not slowed him down.

I am happy Yen hasn’t retired and hope that the U.S. release of “Sakra” (coupled with the phenomenal success of “John Wick: Chapter 4”) will continue his on-screen journeys.

Besides, watching the great Donnie Yen unleash the “Eighteen Subduing Dragon Palms” is a sight that will warm the heart of any fan of Kung Fu cinema.

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