Combining a period drama, police procedural and raucous wu-xia action, this superbly made Chinese thriller grabs our attention from the outrageous opening scene and never lets up. Not only are the fight sequences exceptionally inventive, but the acting is first-rate, stirring up emotional resonance as well as lots of mysterious intrigue.

It's set in a sleepy village in Yunan province in 1917, where the mild-mannered Jin-xi (Yen) lives with his family. But when two ruthless killers attack his stationery shop, something about the way Jin-xi "accidentally" defeats them looks suspicious to big-city detective Xu (Kaneshiro). As he pieces together the events, he begins to suspect that Jin-xi is simply too skilled at battle. Could he even be the nation's most-wanted criminal: the missing commander of the notorious Demon gang? If this is true, Xu knows that Jin-xi will do almost anything to protect his family and maintain his tranquil new life.

Director Chan cleverly peels apart the opening assault as the Sam Spade-like Xu investigates it, using slow-motion and freeze-frames to reveal secrets in ways that are both fascinating and thrilling. This also cleverly lets us know right off the bat that there's a lot more going on here than meets the eye. And all of the actors fill their scenes with churning subtext, which not only adds spark to the interpersonal drama but also makes the action sequences that much more exciting.

Continue reading: Dragon [Wu Xia] Review