Xanda (2004)

Directed by
Career lows
Reviewed by Simon on 2004-06-16

It's no secret that Tsui Hark has been down on his luck lately, and his trip to Hollywood seems to have done his career a lot of harm, though it did apparently result in the great Time And Tide, so it wasn't all bad. However, T&T flopped at the box office, as did his next film Legend Of Zu... and his next (Black Mask 2)... and the one after that (Era Of Vampires). So, he's been finding it a bit hard to get financing his films lately, and for his latest film XANDA he seems to have partnered with mainland company Shenzhen Film Studio, for a film shot in Mainland China about the martial art XANDA (or SAN DA if you prefer). It should be noted that Tsui is only credited as producer with Marco Mak taking director credit - but with Tsui Hark, the line between producer and director can be a very thin one.

However, whether you choose to look at it as a Tsui Hark film or a Marco Mak film, XANDA must surely be a new career lowpoint. The film disappeared from the HK box office without a trace, and unfortunately I have to conclude that this was with good reason.

The film gets off to an OK start as we see a young former kung fu champion move to Shenzhen to earn enough money to buy a car and see a bit more of the world. However, this plan goes astray when his friend gets injured in a fight and he decides to enter a XANDA competition to get money for his medical bills. He figures (we assume) that because he was a kung fu champ as a kid, he should be able to learn SAN DA in a few weeks and enter his first tournament. Rather implausibly he does enter the tournament (despite having had like 1 days XANDA training) and gets his ass kicked. He quits XANDA, fannies around with a girl who for reasons never explained falls for him and then for reasons I've blacked out decides to take up XANDA again, and somehow ends up fighting the world champion in what seems to be his second ever tournament fight (perhaps something got lost in the editing room). Did I mention that the champion is going out with his girlfriend's sister? Well, it doesn't seem to have any bearing on the plot or thematic relevance, so I don't know why they bothered mentioning it either...

That's the plot, in a nutshell. And it really doesn't get any deeper than that (though it layers the cheese and cliche on thick). It's virtually incoherent, embarrassingly shallow and tacky and really not at all interesting.

BUT, it's a martial arts tournament film, so who needs a plot? Well, there might be some justification in that viewpoint (I said some) if the fights were entertaining to watch, but they really aren't. There's a few moments where the lead shows off some great kung fu forms, but as the film tells us, XANDA is about combat, not looking good - and hence the XANDA fights really aren't that exciting to watch. Once you've seen your 100th slomo shot of somebody getting hit in the face and spraying water/sweat/saliva or whatever there really isn't much point seeing more - and I'm sure we all saw our 100th such shot well before we even heard of XANDA. I guess Marco Mak (or Tsui Hark) realised in the editing room that a combat-oriented martial art isn't that cinematic, and hence came up with the idea of showing all the fights in cheesy Rocky-style montages, with multiple shots overlaid, including scenes of training or his girlfriend or his childhood or his pet dog or whatever, so you barely get to see the fights anyway. Even when they're not mixed with 13 other shots, the camera is in too tight and the editing too fast to appreciate much of what's happening. Basically it's a blow-out.

There might have been a decent film in here if they'd cut out all the stupid plot and just had a pure XANDA tournament film, and actually showed the fights in whole and with clear camerawork editing. The fighters do have some impressive skills (you can occasionally tell from the shots), and the fights look like they were pretty full-contact. It might have been quite enjoyable to watch. But in its current form, it really isn't.

Though I did manage to make it to the end without fast forwarding, falling asleep or dying - so it's perhaps not completely worthless...

Tsui Hark, you really need to get your act together and give us and yourself a hit film again...