Strangely fitting that this should be my last movie of Fantasia. However, we now have a list of associated movies left to watch and review. And of course you don’t want to miss my wrap-up. Let’s not jump ahead.
Director Haufeng Xu brings us a different take on martial arts with Judge Archer. The level of detail in this movie is a martial arts fan wet dream. Nothing looks cheap or just put together. At no point does the cheap scenery come out. Same with the costumes. This is a beautifully crafted period movie. Now for the storyline, I have to applaud the decision of the director to tell a story without exposition. Actually, there’s so little of it that you literally have to examine each scene carefully to see what happened. Now, there’s a fine line between minimalistic approach and almost enigmatic elitism, so there’s quite a chance you’re not sure what happens. Give it a chance though.
A desperate individual is driven close to insanity. He is given a new lease in life by monks who tell him to adopt the first name he hears. As it happens, it’s Judge Archer – a name which is really a title of an impartial individual who deals justice between warring factions. For instance, he will intervene between two martial art schools. This gains him a lot of enemies as well. When an enigmatic woman who dresses in male fashion requests justice and revenge against a military man, Judge Archer finds himself going against an aging Kung Fu master, his disciple and an opera singer who flirts shamelessly with him. Judge Archer is used to solve everything with Kung Fu and his bow, but times are changing. Gunpowder is starting to be used. It might be that Judge Archer is the last of his kind.
There is no wire fighting, no special moves, no flashy lights in the world of Judge Archer. The debates take place with close quarters battles in which the two opponents literally sit within an arm’s reach of each other. However, we do have the chance of seeing Judge Archer go against an entire group of armed combatants, employing the same reserved and subtle style of fighting that is fast, short and with little to no kicking in sight.
Highs: Well crafted fighting and meticulous attention to detail make this a really nice movie to watch. The spotlight is on a more realistic and down-to-earth Kung Fu although it’s still incredibly fast. Minimal exposition can be a plus or feel pretentious. I’m going to consider it a plus, as I’ve seen too many mainstream movies go overboard with exposition to the point of stopping the movie to do it.
Lows: Judge Archer himself is a very stoic individual. Don’t expect him to have an epiphany in the middle of the movie, he’s very emotionally distant. Some scenes happen so fast and with very little dialog which will leave some people in the audience frustrated. There’s an implied act of rape at the beginning of the film that seems to impact the main character more than his sister, which was the actual rape victim. I hope I missed something there and that’s not how that is supposed to be taken.
Recommended with reservations. The movie lets you draw the lines to form the storyline instead of exposition overload. Close combat Kung Fu with a healthy side of armed combat once in a while. Might be frustrating if you’re expecting the storyline to be explained to you. It’s a step above generic fighting films.
Coming up next: My Fantasia wrap up! Otakuthon starts this weekend! Guess I’m not sleeping early anytime soon.
That will do for now.