Sakra (HK 2022)

Rating: **
Review Date: 4/16/23
Director: Donnie Yen
Cast: Donnie Yen, Chen Yuqi, cameos by Yuen Cheung Yan, Wei Ying Hung

"If I wanted to kill someone, would you still be alive?"

Donnie Yen's latest wuxia outing is an overly long and needlessly convoluted exercise in tedium. Raised as an orphan, Qiao Feng (Donnie Yen) becomes a matchless martial artist and the highly respected and benevolent leader of the powerful Beggar's Gang. Unfortunately, he's kicked out of the clan when he's framed for murder and his true bloodline is discovered. Once an exalted hero, now everyone wants him dead, except for a young woman named Azhu (Chen Yuqi) who is accidentally injured during one of Qiao Feng's fights. Qiao Feng sacrifices his life to heal her wounds, but he is rescued at the last minute by a mysterious stranger. More nonsense and intrigue follows, which caused me to completely lose track of what was going on. But by then, I didn't really care how it was going to end.

Sadly, the film is a disjointed mess and the story is as aimless as Donnie Yen's direction. There are four major set pieces, but the film's momentum gets lost between each one. The action is fast, furious, and completely chaotic, opting for Hollywood-style editing and digital sleight of hand, which makes it hard to follow. It seems that Hong Kong cinema is still about 10-15 years behind Hollywood when it comes to state of the art digital effects, and the overreliance on glaringly apparent and unconvincing CGI cheapens the action scenes. The genre really hasn't improved much since the radical digital shift with "The Stormriders" (1998). Call me old-fashioned, but I much prefer the practical effects of mid-90s wuxia epics to anything that's come out in the last 25 years. As with many modern films, it also suffers from a stuttering framerate, as if it went through a 24-fps to 30-fps conversion. I could understand this being a problem 30 years ago, but it shouldn't even be an issue these days. I wonder if it's indicative of cutting corners in post production?

It clearly comes across as a vanity project for the ageless Donnie Yen, and while he looks great and carries the film well, it's just downright dull. He shows flashes of brilliance during the fight scenes, but they quickly give way to outrageous CGI tomfoolery. Chen Yuqi is quite lovely as an antagonist turned love interest, and the chemistry between her and Yen comes across as warm and sincere. Veteran action actress Wei Ying Hung shows up in a cameo role, which was a bittersweet reminder of an era long past. I was hoping that Donnie Yen could revitalize the wuxia genre and bring it back to its former glory, but "Sakra" doesn't do anything to stand out among its contemporaries.