How good is it to finally have a full slate of Chinese New Year movies in the cinemas once again? While in the past, a Stephen Chow or Jackie Chan movie used to be the staple during the CNY period, these days, Donnie Yen is arguably the biggest draw from Hong Kong.
Yen has been relatively quiet for his standards in recent years, with his last starring role in a movie being 2020’s Raging Fire. But he makes a comeback in a big way with Sakra, not only starring in the movie, but co-producing it with Wong JIng and also directing it himself.
Adapted from the classic wuxia novel Demi-Gods and Semi-Devils written by the late Chinese literary legend Louis Cha (also known as Jin Yong), Sakra (Chinese title: 天龙八部之乔峰传) stars Yen as Qiao Feng, one of the three lead characters in the novel.
In a somewhat rushed prologue, we learn that Qiao Feng was adopted as a baby by a kindly couple in the Song nation, trains in the Shaolin Temple, and then joins the Begger’s Sect, one of the Song nation's largest and most influential band of wuxia heroes.
By the time we meet the adult Qiao Feng (Yen), he is already the fully formed version of the legendary hero – a master martial artist who is also the leader of the Begger’s Sect. In short, things seem to be working out pretty well for him.
But that doesn’t last, of course. Things soon start to go wrong for Qiao Feng, as he is falsely accused of killing a fellow Begger’s Sect leader, and also revealed to have originated from the Khitan nation, the sworn enemies of the Song nation.
One thing leads to another, and Qiao Feng finds himself cast out of the Begger’s Sect, banished from the Shaolin Temple, and ostracised for his ‘crime’ of being from Khitan.
On his quest to clear his name and get to the bottom of the mystery, he encounters a mysterious woman name Ah Chu (Chen Yuqi). After inadvertently causing her to be grievously hurt, he sets out to find a way to heal her. Along the way, the two develop feelings for each other, but the turmoil and violence stalking Qiao Feng soon catches up with them.
If you’re familiar with the story of Demi-Gods and Semi-Devils, Sakra should prove a decent, if imperfect adaptation of Qiao Feng’s story, as it largely stays faithful to the character’s arc in the novel.
But first things first, – despite his proven dramatic chops, no one goes to a Donnie Yen movie expecting a slow-moving rom-com. We’re here for the action, and boy does he deliver.
This being a wuxia film, expect to see gravity-defying feats like our hero leaping over buildings in a single bound, and using his ‘qi’ to repel enemies or heal people.
While these feats can sometimes seem incredulous and even comical at times (even though we're pretty used to seeing superheroes doing them all the time), credit needs to be given to Yen and his action choreographers for trying to do things a little differently in Sakra.
By combining those fantastical elements with some fast-paced practical action, Yen makes the major fights seem more visceral and thrilling to watch. Of these, Qiao Feng’s fight against a flame-throwing (yes, I know) monk in the beginning, and a no-holds barred melee against a multitude of Song heroes stand out the most.
Yes, there is lots of wirework and needless CGI involved, and the final ‘boss fight’ does regress into a bit of an over CGI-ed mess, but for the most part, Yen delivers on the action in Sakra.
However, certain parts do seem a little unwieldy when translated onto the big screen, especially when it comes to developing the romance between Qiao Feng and Ah Chu.
The sudden appearance of certain pivotal characters (sometimes seemingly out of nowhere) can also be a bit confusing for those who are not familiar with the source material.
Still, Sakra is a decent adaptation of a literary classic, and if all you want is a fun time at the cinema during the CNY holidays, then you really can't go wrong with a Donnie Yen movie.
Mindless wuxia fun from Yen