3.5, Hong Kong/China


New York Asian Film Festival2011 / Peter Chan > Finally, something with flavor: After a series of bland, bloated martial arts/war epics from mainland China, Dragon (or Swordsmen, as it was called previously, or Wu Xia, as it was called at its Cannes premiere) arrives with just enough salt to tend the wound. Half-police procedural and half-actioner, Chan makes good in building depth so that we care about what’s behind the fighting. As Takeshi Kaneshiro’s detective unveils the mystery of Donnie Yen, a common villager with a dubious past, it’s hard not to think of this as a Chinese take on Out of the Past and A History of Violence. Then again, it’s not so much that the film does anything new, but rather that it succeeds in being poignant, focused and rarely tries to hide behind the melodrama that has plagued its peers. Brooding and often brutal, it’s a much-needed kick into an otherwise stagnating genre.