The wuxia genre is one that often gets a bit muddled when it comes to the big screen, especially when it comes to martial arts movies putting on impressive stunts. Whenever a character flies across the screen, leaps over their adversary in an impossible way, or lands a blow that sends their foe flying out of shot you can be left wondering if the film is just going a bit over the top, or if it’s supposed to be a fantasy story. Luckily, Sakra makes it clear very early on that the events of this film are in no way supposed to be realistic, and you’re able to relax and enjoy the spectacle.
Sakra, which both stars and is directed by Donnie Yen, tells the story of Qiao Feng, who was left on his adoptive parents’ doorstep as a baby. His parents, who live in the Song Empire, raise Qiao Feng as their own, and teach him to be a decent, honourable young man. Over the years he ends up becoming part of the Beggar’s Sect, a gang of heroes that wander the land. As one of the Sect’s chiefs, Qiao Feng makes a name for himself and does some good in the world.
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However, Qiao Feng’s life is shattered when he is accused of murdering one of the Sect’s leaders. It is revealed that the leader had discovered Qiao Feng’s true origin, a child of the Song Empire’s enemies, the Khitan, and it is believed that Qiao Feng murdered him to keep the secret. After escaping the gang and returning home, Qiao Feng finds his adoptive parents and his Shaolin teacher murdered, and is blamed for these crimes too. With four murders against his name, Qiao Feng sets out to discover who committed the crimes.
Sakra makes it clear within the opening minutes of the movie that this is a fantasy film; one with arch characters, extreme action, and a complex plot. The first time we see the adult Qiao Feng is in a scene where he is fighting a group of monks at a tea house, a scene that has the combatants flying across buildings, smashing through statues, and producing fire around their fists. It’s an impressively put together scene, one that not only lays out the kind of things that you can expect from the setting, but also the beauty of the film.
Sakra is an impressive looking movie, one that goes out of its way to make each shot look good. The level of detail and attention given over to the sets and the costumes makes this a film where you’ll find your eyes wandering around the screen trying to take everything in. The action sequences also look incredibly well done, and it seems like a lot of effort has been put in to make them as interesting as possible. The camera isn’t just content to sit stationary as the fighting goes on in the centre, and moves and flies around the environment like it’s also possessed of enhanced abilities. There’s a level of fluidity and scale to the film because of this, and it feels as though camera position and movement were planned into the fights with painstaking detail, working to give the audience the most dynamic experience possible.
Based upon the novel Demi-Gods and Semi-Devils, the film adapts a small part of the large narrative, focusing on one of three central protagonists in the book. The film seems to be hinting that there could be more to come from this story, with an extensive mid-credits scene that plays into the history of the events of Sakra as well as building towards a future narrative. As nothing has been confirmed towards a sequel actually being made at this point, these scenes make for an interesting move, as they take a film that feels pretty well finished and complete and make it clear that there’s a lot more happening. If no sequel comes out these moments are unlikely to ruin the experience of the film, though it may leave viewers somewhat frustrated if it gets them excited for more.
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When it comes to art there are many discussions about separating the art from the artist. Often times these discussions end up getting muddied and heated, especially with fanbases that can be described as ‘intense’. One need only look at the recent discussions of Ezra Miller being brought up in relation to The Flash, and how fans shouted down comments as being some kind of hit piece, in order to see how these things can sometimes go. As such, it does feel somewhat risky to mention Donnie Yen’s links to the Chinese Communist Party in relation to Sakra. That being said, with there being scenes in the movie where his character confronts the ill treatment of people described as animals and stands against it, this does end up feeling a bit odd and even hypocritical of him considering the human rights violations in China against the Uyghurs.
Sakra is an interesting, and well made Wuxia martial arts movie with some fantastic action sequences and inventive fights. It manages to make a pretty dense narrative, filling the two hour run time with a lot of background info, romance sub-plots, political intrigue, and small character moments. In a lot of ways Sakra feels like the kind of films that the martial arts movies of the 70s and 80s were trying to be, but with the budget to finally bring the grand sense of scale and epicness to proceedings.