word carries authority and so does his arrows. The man called Judge Archer
resolves disputes between early Twentieth Century Chinese martial arts schools.
It is his job to tell the masters to play nice and eat their peas, so nobody
likes him very much. The persona is a burden under the best of circumstances,
but the young new Judge is also plagued by personal demons. Things will really
get interesting when the martial arts arbiter is caught between two femme
fatales in Xu Haofeng’s Judge Archer (trailer here), which screened
during the 2016 Fantasia International Film Festival.
who saw Xu’s Sword Identity and The Final Master, might expect the wuxia
novelist and martial arts scholar to rehash that same plot a third time (or
rather technically the second time, since Archer
was completed well before Master).
However, this film is entirely its own animal. Nobody seeks to destroy the
Judge’s archery techniques. The Archer himself is a different matter.
current Judge Archer was born of peasant stock. When the landlord assaulted (as
they euphemistically put it in Twins Falls, ID) his younger sister with
impunity, it caused a psychotic break. According to the monks overseeing his
rebirth ritual, the young man is take the first words he hears as his new name.
As ironic karma dictates, those would be “Judge Archer.” Choosing to accept
fate, the aging Judge Archer takes his new namesake under his wing.
Unfortunately, he will not have enough time to teach the new Judge as much as
he would like, but his successor is still pretty hardnosed.
his relative lack of experience will allow JA to be ensnared in a complicated
power struggle. Erdong, or femme fatale number one, recruits the Judge to help
her avenge her father. It is a little outside his jurisdiction, but justice is
justice, so he starts surveilling steely old Kuang Yimin disguised as a fruit
seller. Immediately sensing a narc, Kuang has his wife Yue Yahong (femme fatale
#2) seduce Judge Archer. However, she might do too good a job of her honey trap
assignment. Of course, there is a wider power struggle underway, but Judge Archer
really doesn’t care about the politics. For him, the situation is strictly
approach to martial arts goes beyond old school, embracing ancient nearly
forgotten traditional techniques, no matter how cinematic they may or may not
be. Fortunately, in this case, the seated hand-to-hand duels (sort of like Kung
Fu patty-cake) look great on-screen. Still, it is definitely true Xu’s
characters are more likely to brood their lights out than go skipping from
rooftop to rooftop.
fab four characters are also drawn quite distinctively. Xu regular Yang Song
probably does his career-best work as the emotionally damaged Archer. Similarly,
Li Chengyuan and the Chinese American Yenny Martin are not just pretty
seductresses. They are also acutely sensitive and deeply tragic as Yue Yahong
and Erdong, respectively. To complete the central quartet, the late, great Yu
Cheng-hui exudes crusty old Sean Connery-esque badassedness as Kuang.
There are several very cool fight scenes in Judge Archer which also have the additional
virtues of originality and authenticity. It is strange that it took the film (which
debuted internationally in 2012) so long to get here, but it is worth the wait.
Judge Archer is top-shelf but
scrupulously grounded wuxia, highly recommended for martial arts fans,
following its Canadian premiere at this year’s Fantasia.
Labels: Fantasia '16, Martial arts cinema, Xu Haofeng