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by Jay Seaver

"The star could be the next big thing, but this movie won't take her there."
3 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2009 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: Jiang Lu Xia has, arguably, come full circle very quickly - not long ago, she was demonstrating her martial arts skills on internet videos and competing on Jackie Chan's "The Disciple" TV series (a program looking for the next big Hong Kong martial arts star). Now, she's starring in a movie which involves her character being sucked into a martial arts competition being streamed online.

That character, Nie Yiyi, is a skilled martial artist working as a security guard after her father's death. A childhood friend, Zhong Tien (Sam Lee), now works as a personal assistant to a local billionaire, Mr He (Eddie Cheung), and when he needs a bodyguard for his wife, Tien convinces them to hire Yiyi. The Hes are kidnapped anyway, though, and Yiyi blames herself - there were only seven of them, with one a running-through-walls giant, after all! A cell phone left at the scene leads her to a nightclub, where she's thrown into the first fight in a gauntlet.

As silly and hackneyed as that story sounds, the reality is, amazingly, actually far stupider, with final act revelations that really don't make a lick of sense, characters who act suspicious for no apparent reason, and ways of getting Yiyi into fights that only get more ridiculous as they go along; the story also largely depends on Yiyi not really being terribly bright. In a genre where screenplays are often the merest wisp of reasons to get from one fight scene to another, what "Sunny" Chan Wing-sun does here is especially transparent.

The one thing that he does manage well, though, is tailoring the main character to his star. Jiang Lu Xia is not some cutie pie who has taken a few classes to expand her career from singing to film, but a tough-looking fighter who can hit pretty hard despite her diminutive stature, and Yiyi has the perfect no-bullshit personality to go with it. She's a blunt object battering her way to her objective, and Chan gives her some good notes to hit; I'm especially fond of how, after being dropped from a ceiling into a pit to fight another girl, she flashes us a look that says she doesn't have time for this crap and starts walking away.

Heck, with his long, curly hair and lack of skill at fighting, Sam Lee almost seems to be playing the girl sidekick, a somewhat fun gender reversal. The rest of the cast does their parts well enough, and they include some crazy fighters, including a pair who combine b-boying and martial arts.. The fight scenes are also pretty impressively staged, giving Jiang a chance to use a restaurant kitchen or the bamboo scaffolding outside a building as a jungle gym as she plows through multiple opponents. Jiang certainly has the skills to sell a good fight on screen, no question about it.

She may need a better director to make it happen, though it pains me to say that. Xiong Xin Xin is making his debut behind the camera, although he should be much remembered for his role as "Club Foot" in the later Once Upon a Time in China films (if you don't remember him from those, hit the video store; you've got some movies to rent). He's mostly been working as a stunt co-ordinator since then, and he does much of the fight choreography here. He's got trouble shooting it, though - as much as we can see that there's some crazy stuntwork going on, he's often got the camera too close, and he really hasn't learned how to put it together in the editing room yet (here's a hint: when two women are ankle deep in water and about to engage in some kung fu, there's never any reason to cut away). The storytelling is a bit of a mess, which hurts the movie even when the story itself is crap.

That's a shame, because Jiang Lu Xia certainly has the physical chops to be an action star; she deserves a better showcase for her skills.

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originally posted: 07/22/09 04:51:12
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2009 Fantasia Festival For more in the 2009 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.

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Directed by
  Xin Xin Xiong

Written by
  Wing-Sun Chan

  Jiang Lui Xia
  Siu-Fai Cheung
  Kane Kosugi
  Sam Lee

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