Stepping back behind the camera to helm (with a little help from frequent collaborator Kam Ka-Wai) a big budget adaption of the wuxia novel ‘Demi-Gods and Semi-Devils’, Donnie Yen’s latest (hot on the heels of the success of ‘John Wick 4’) is a good looking but ultimately muddled epic that only truly soars in its impressive action scenes.
A supposed franchise starter, ‘Sakra’ whizzes through the prologue of an abandoned baby who grows up to be the legendary fighter and leader of the Beggar Gang, Qiao Feng (Yen). Following an incredible and sustained fight (that occurs even before the title credits roll!) showcasing Qiao’s extraordinary fight skills and chi powers, he is accused of murder and relinquishes his role as leader of the gang. Thus, he sets off on a journey to find the real killer (to prove his innocence) and along the way begins to discover the origins of his mysterious past. He also rescues would-be thief Azhu (Chen Yuqi) from death and the two become close as they outrun unknown pursuing enemies as their quest takes them into the path of warring clans, duplicitous warlords, and dramatic revelations about both their pasts.
At just over two hours there is a lot going in ‘Sakra’, but it unfortunately doesn’t feel long enough to do the complex story justice. Too many characters vying for attention and a pace that oddly jet propels through certain aspects and then slogs through others, means it can be hard to invest in the plight of the protagonists. A mix of historical drama, romantic melodrama, and frantic wuxia superhero charged action, Yen and his crew certainly go all out to create an epic and kudos to their ambition. The flick looks amazing and during the phases when it hits its groove, Yen and crew fire on all cylinders. However, the multiple story strands, the not always convincing budding romance between the two leads, pacing issues, a new set of characters being introduced almost three quarters of the way through (and the focus then shifting to them!), and (seemingly out of nowhere!) multiple ‘Mission Impossible’ style fake mask reveals (!) means there is a lot vying for screen attention. And as some of these aspects rush by, it makes for a not always satisfying narrative.
Fortunately, and if there was ever any doubt, ‘Sakra’ soars in the action department. While not as saturated with action as one may hope the big set-pieces it does feature are fantastic and give ‘Sakra’ much needed jolts of wuxia action mayhem. Yen and his team (including the always ace Kenji Tanigaki) craft big, bold and badass fight scenes that feature multiple opponents, impressive wirework, various techniques, whole property destruction, and heightened chi power to give a superhero flavour to the fights. It’s grand stuff that Yen gives his all in, the highlight being the midway extended fight where he takes on multiple fighters in a place called the Hall of Heroes.
‘Sakra’ certainly delivers on the big wuxia action and there is no doubting the creativity in front and behind the camera but there’s just something missing that doesn’t make it as great as it could have been. Perhaps the potential sequels will remedy this.