100 Yards Featured, Reviews Film Threat
Sep 18, 2023
TORONTO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2023 REVIEW! Brothers and co-directors Xu Haofeng and Xu Junfeng’s 100 Yards begins in the way any serious martial arts movie should, with a duel. But, rather cleverly, the fight is utilized to foreshadow every aspect of the film’s personality. In a nod to the wuxia classics, it’s a showdown between estranged hero and villainous apprentice, overseen by an aged master. But it is also realized with an ethereal falling snow aesthetic and offers an amuse-bouche of tantalizing kung fu. It even has unexpected repartee.
100 Yards tells the story of An (Jacky Heung), the wayward son of an aging kung fu master. When the grandmaster suddenly dies, his academy, the Tianjin Kung Fu School, is bequeathed to the school’s top student, Qi Quan (Andy On). Determined to show that he is the true heir of both the academy and his father’s martial lineage, An sets out to showcase his skill to the academy’s elders.
From its very first frame, the film is riveting. The sets are sumptuously colored and extraordinarily intricate, often featuring dozens of people and objects, all moving and interacting with a kind of dreamlike realism. Adding to this effect is the tremendous costume work, which infuses each character with personality and an idealized coolness. Interestingly, the Xu brothers use this visual “coolness” to flick seamlessly between various genres, from wuxia to western to noir.
“Determined to show that he is the true heir of both the academy and his father’s martial lineage…”
Shao Dan’s cinematography further underscores the film’s visual identity. Throughout, the camera moves in a remarkably unrestrained way, exploring the sets like a bird in flight. During fight scenes, the camera becomes a sort of dance partner that revolves around the combatants, offering an intimate glimpse into every strike and action. And the film features dozens of immaculately choreographed and viscerally rendered battles. Heung and On are brutal and elegant, the fluidity of their pairing coming from years of training together. But the Xu brothers, seemingly displeased with adequacy, constantly intensify the complexity of the fights. Combined with its sheer beauty, these scenes become a banquet of classical aestheticism.
However, being a wuxia martial arts film, 100 Yards often over-relies on aged narrative beats. For a movie that aspires to expand kung fu cinema to the international market, some moments can seem nearly incoherent. While not poorly plotted by any means, the story is simply stretched too thin. And yet, this is the most nominal of criticisms, especially to those with knowledge of the genre.
100 Yards is undeniably excellent. Even more, it extends the legacy of the Bruce Lees, the Jackie Chans, and the Donnie Yens, all with sophistication, wit, and an enormous amount of style. Xu Haofeng and Xu Junfeng have composed a remarkably modern martial arts film. All at once, it pays homage to the past, faces the future, and revels in its own confident style.
100 Yards screened at the 2023 Toronto International Film Festival.
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