Thursday, 10 March 2011


Barbie Hsu is the name of one of the actresses in this film (far right). The world feels a better place to me just knowing that.

You almost certainly won't have heard of this film unless you're a die hard fan of wuxia. (Wuxia is the Chinese genre of historical martial arts swordplay which is very popular in the Far East but a bit of a cult for Western audiences). ROA was released there last year and is a collaboration between producer & co-director John Woo and writer & director Chao-Bin Su. Basically it was directed by Chao-Bin with Woo overseeing the production and he was, I've read, on set every day. Although the rights have been sold in America, Adi Tantimedh (writing on the website Bleeding Cool which is where I learned about it) suspects it might just get buried. And it isn't available in Europe either. The only way you can get hold of a copy is from a Far East dealer -I got mine from Hong Kong for only £6.95 (free postage) on Ebay, along with the new Tsui Hark film Detective Dee which is based on the Robert van Gulik Judge Dee novels and I'll be reviewing it soon.

And on with the film which, in case you weren't paying attention to the image above, stars the sublime, the wonderful, the amazing-
-who, as far as I'm concerned, is enough reason alone to buy the DVD. But there are other reasons, lots of them.

Okay, the mcguffin is this -the body of a revered Buddhist monk has been split into two, get them back together and whoever owns it rules the world of martial arts.

Now, the leader of the Dark Stone clan of assassins wants it for himself. Drizzle, his most skilfull warrior (played by Kelly Lin) steals it, hides it, goes to see a surgeon and emerges later as Zeng Jing (Michelle Yeoh). Yeoh sets herself up as a clothes seller and resists the efforts of her neighbour to find her a husband. Instead she finds herself attracted to the kind-hearted one-man post office service Jiang A-shen and they get married. Inevitably the hunters find her and she has to both try and keep her husband safe while maintaining her secret. Needless to say she fails and as the action gets wilder, more and more secrets are revealed including that of her husband. Be honest, you knew he had to have a secret. It would have been more of a surprise if he hadn't.

This is a bold and confident movie. Despite it being an action movie, the writer-director is confident enough in his cast and his characters to allow for long sections of character beats, permitting the viewer to get to know and have more of an emotional investment in them. These sections work well, helped by the skill of the actors so that they are always interesting. Yeoh is, of course, the star of the show. Despite her reputation for her physical skills, which earned her the unqualified admiration of Jackie Chan, she is also a very fine actress who gets better as she gets older. She can suggest so much while appearing to do little.

It goes without saying that the action set pieces are a bravura showpiece of the actors and stunt persons skills, the fight director, and the editing. There's some great wire-fu work which is all the more effective by being less showy than other wuxia movies I've seen. I did notice that some of Yeoh's sequences are performed by stunt people when once she would have  done them herself but she is 50 next year and she must be slowing down no matter how fit she is.

This is just a terrific film and it would have been a good one even with another lead actress, but Michelle is the icing on a very fine confection.

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