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Jade Warrior
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by Jay Seaver

"One part wuxia action, one part depressing Finnish art film."
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2007 FANTASIA FESTIVAL: Some of the hype around "Jade Warrior" is that it's the first martial arts film to come from Finland, which is a nifty sounding hook but not fully representative of what the film delivers: There's only two or three fights in the movie, and though they're good ones, it really isn't that kind of film. It's still a good film, with a clever hook and a uniquely Scandinavian twist on the wuxia epic.

The film opens by informing of us of an anthropological curiosity: The Kalevala (Finland's national epic) refers to a container created by a legendary smith called the "Sampo", which disappears; a similar object also appears in ancient Chinese myth. A prologue shows a young Chinese woman and her husband chasing a wolf through a field of snow, seeking this Sampo; their bodies are discovered in the present day. There we meet a quartet of Finns - Berg (Markku Peltola) and Weckstrom (Elle Kull) are investigating the find in the back of an antique shop where Ronja (Krista Kosonen) is selling a few items as she leaves the city and her smithy boyfriend Kai (Tommi Eronen) behind. Berg recognizes Kai's work as possibly being the key to opening the recovered Sampo. As he tries to get Kai to forge the key, we're told the story of the box's history - how in ancient China, a blond martial arts master, Sintai, came with his disciple Cho (Hao Dang) to a far off village to slay a demon, and there met and romanced the lovely Pin Yu (Zhang Jingchu). Here's the thing, though - if Sintai completed his task, his soul should not reincarnate, but he looks an awful lot like Kai.

The film's Finnish audience probably doesn't need to be reminded that the heroes in the Kalevala seldom get happy endings, although it is mentioned in an offhand sort of way. And ultimately, once you strip away the demons, swordplay, stars spinning out of control, and reincarnation, Jade Warrior is something of an anti-love story, with one man's love foiled and an underlying theme of knowing when it's best to quit. It's quietly tragic, running somewhat counter to the normal direction the melodrama we're presented with.

Filmmaker Antti-Jussi Annila handles this tragic story well, building it out of Kai's depression on the one hand while having sparring stand in for flirting with Sintai and Pin Yu. He's got a knack for making his story both epic and very down-to-earth, as well as handling different locations: The film takes place in environments as diverse as a Finnish ice cap and China's Gobi deesrt. It's an ambitious, grand-scale story, but Annila never lets it get away from him.

That includes the action scenes. There's not that many of them, but the ones that are in the movie are fun to watch. The one that takes place in a smithy has characters going at each other with sledgehammers, which is always a good time, and between them Annila and martial arts choreographer Yu Yan Kai sell what's going on, even when the characters are played by folks whom I suspect have not had a lifetime of training. Not bad at all, considering that they for the most part tend to shoot at medium distance rather than going in tight where you can just show a stuntman's fist.

That only accounts for some ten or fifteen minutes of film; the rest is built on character work which the actors handle with aplomb. Tommi Eronen fares very well in his dual role, making Kai and Sintai very different people but also making us believe that Kai is who he is in part because of who Sintai was. Zhang Jinchu is one to watch as Pin Yu; she gives the character a tomboyish charm with how she wants little to do with Sintai at first. Markku Peltola, probably best known outside of Finland for starring in The Man Without a Past, goes from cranky to obsessed quite nicely as the film goes on.

Despite the title, "Jade Warrior" isn't really an action film, and is maybe a bit disappointing from that perspective. It's not a bad drama, though, and the fantasy elements give it an extra kick.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=14941&reviewer=371
originally posted: 07/23/07 11:52:42
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 Toronto Film Festival For more in the 2006 Toronto Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2007 Fantasia Film Festiva For more in the 2007 Fantasia Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

10/21/06 tospa Nice movie. Story is interesting and movie is ower all good. HYVÄ SUOMI! 4 stars
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  N/A (PG-13)
  DVD: 06-Apr-2010



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