(Hong Kong/China 2004)
(aka) Combat Final
Directed by Marco Mak Produced by Tsui Hark Action by Ma Zhong Xuan, Cheung Man, Kou Zhan Wen, Gao Mei Jian
Starring: Sang Wei Lin, Zhao Zi Long, Teng Jun, Ni Jing Yang, Zhang Hong Jun, Li Tie, Lu Yi, Guo Hui, Qian Wei, Yang Yu Chao
Reviewing: Eureka Video UK DVD Release
Genres: Tournament / Martial Arts / Drama
Rating - 2 / 5
DVD Synopsis: Qiang learns that Lung has been training in Xanda under his father, Tieh (Zhang Hong Jun), a former Xanda fighter himself who has since retired from the sport and has become a coach. When Qiang helps Lung with his training, Qiang is able to use his kung fu training to good use. Along the way, he meets Ning (Ni Jing Yang), a young woman whose feelings for Qiang and his culture soon turn to love. Lung is ready to compete against Wei in the Xanda competition, in hopes that he will earn his fathers respect by winning the championship. However, Lung is viciously mauled by Wei and ends up in the hospital. Qiang offers to take on Wei, combining Xanda with his form of kung fu. After months of training, the time has come for Qiang to step up to the plate and take on Wei in the ultimate Xanda showdown.
Views: The wonderful Tsui Hark produces and co-writes this forgettable tournament film based in Mainland China, and tells the story of a fighting style that was pretty much the original form of MMA. When a young kung fu champion (Qiang) grows up, he makes the move to the city of Shenzhen in order to earn enough money to buy a car and travel. While eating dinner one evening, Qiang steps in to help a woman who is being harassed by a tournament champion (Wei) which results in a fight that leaves his close friend severely injured and in hospital. Loaned the money to pay for his bill by the woman he helped, Qiang sets about learning Xanda from a retired fighter and his friend Lung, in order to compete in an upcoming tournament so that he can win the cash prize and pay the woman (Ning) back. After his first fight leaves him KO-ed, Qiang goes back to training and soon combines his own skills of kung-fu with the style, working himself up to take on the mighty Wei in a brutal showdown. There's also the side story of a romance with wanna-be drummer Ning and another with a girl in a wheelchair from his old village, but that doesn't really go anywhere!
For a film I never really loved, I still can't figure out why I own 2 copies of it. The first is a Chinese DVD from an unknown distributor and the second is from popular UK label Eureka Video, who have been doing wonders of late with their Blu-ray releases of (much better) Hong Kong movies. As this is on DVD and never been revisited on blue, I can only imagine it was one of their earlier titles and perhaps those in charge weren't just as clued-in on Hong Kong titles as they are now. It also bizarrely comes with a bonus disc of the Bruce Lee docufilm – The Real Bruce Lee. Either way, it has been many years since I last watched Xanda and after this second viewing, I can now remember why. Even with Tsui Hark behind it as a producer and co-writer, and popular Hong Kong editor/director Marco Mak at the helm, Xanda falls flat for the most part and often comes across as an independent feature from a less experienced director. I shouldn't have to relay what Tsui Hark had already given us up to this point, and the same should be said for Marco Mak who started his editing career in the early 70s working on films such as Wits To Wits, Tiger & Crane Fists, The Tatoo Connection, Incredible Kung Fu Master, and others. The early 80s would see him take on the role of assistant director for a brief time, but Mak would continue to edit many classic titles like Iron Angels 2 & 3, Queens High, A Kid From Tibet, Full Alert, The Storm Riders, and many, many more including the most of Tsui Hark's directed or produced features from A Better Tomorrow 3 onwards. The turn-of-the-century would see Mak try his hand at directing starting with the likes of The Blood Rules, and Love Correction. The popular Cop On A Mission certainly left an impression, as did Colour Of The Truth which he made just before this, and while I like Wo Hu, Tracing Shadow, and Naked Soldier for their own reasons, I can't honestly say that Mak would be one of my go-to directors for the best of Hong Kong cinema...
It's not that Xanda is completely dreadful, but its far from the greatest film ever made. The script is quite bland as are its visuals, some of which were captured by the great Herman Yau who usually makes a great job of it. On top of that, the actors really aren't very appealing at all and as characters, don't stand out as people you want to get invested in. The lead actor, Sang Wei Lin, might have some decent moves throughout, but he isn't leading man material – regardless of whether this was his first role or not. He has, however, went on to appear in a number of productions over the years including Benny Chan's Shaolin alongside Jackie Chan and Andy Lau. Ni Jing Yany, who plays Ning, also makes her debut here as does Zhao Zi Long (Lung) and Teng Jun (Wei) in their one-and-only roles to date. In fact, this film proves to be the first (and sometimes only) role for the majority of the main cast. It was an interesting move for both Hark and Mak on using a completely fresh cast, but it only adds to my previous comment that Xanda often feels like an independent feature from a less experienced team. With no less than 4 choreographers listed for the films action scenes, including Ma Zhong Xuan who starred as Iron Arm in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and Kou Zhan Wen who appeared in films like A Warriors Tragedy, Tai Chi 2, Fatal Move, and SPL 2: A Time Of Consequences – there really isn't much to write home about when it comes to the fights, with any decent choreographed works being invaded by fast edits, close-up's, and tight angles.
Overall: While it may have shades of Rocky throughout, Xanda is nowhere near as outstanding as that was and should have been much better given the talent behind the camera!
Eureka DVD Extras: Photo Gallery, Bonus Film – The Real Bruce Lee Documentary
Chinese DVD Extras: Trailers