Donnie Yen still has the ability to amaze with his martial arts ability and onscreen charisma, as was recently proved by his scene-stealing role in John Wick 4. Unfortunately, the films Yen has made recently in Hong Kong have not been nearly as impressive, though this is more an indicator of the decline of this national cinema (especially when they are co-productions with China). Criticisms of Chinese cinema lately is similar to the complaints many have about the bloated blockbusters of Hollywood. This comparison is even more apt in Yen’s latest Hong Kong/Chinese co-production, which has the structure of a classic kung fu film and the visual excess of a poorly made superhero blockbuster.
The initial premise of Sakra might very well be lifted from a classic Shaw Brothers kung fu film, though it is based on the wuxia novel Demi-Gods and Semi-Devils. Along with directing the film, Yen stars as Qiao Feng, the leader of a clan known as the Beggars' Sect, who are comparable to a martial arts version of Robin Hood’s band of Merry Men. When Feng is accused of being a descendant of the Khitan, who are the sworn enemy of the Beggars’ Sect, he is forced to abandon his post as leader in search of answers about his past. Feng is also falsely framed for murdering several innocent people along with the being accused of attempting to steal a manual containing the sect’s fighting technique when he helps a Morong servant named Azhu (Chen Yuqi) who has been tasked with the theft.
Along with a mission to redeem his honor, plenty of sequences where characters heal after being beaten in battle, and even more training sequences before the final battle for redemption and revenge, Sakra has all the martial arts film tropes. And these are the highlights of the film, along with Yen’s consistently charismatic screen presence, which is why the execution of the fight scenes in the second half of the film becomes increasingly disappointing. Yen made it no secret that he intended to make a martial arts film using the formula of Marvel movies as a blueprint, and he succeeded. Unfortunately, the elements he succeeded in bringing over from Marvel are only the ones critics often complain about. The worst aspect is the less than stellar CGI which becomes increasingly overused throughout the narrative. When the characters suddenly have superpowers, this becomes a mashup I quickly lost interest in, and the bloated run-time did not help.
The Blu-ray release for Sakra doesn’t contain any special features worth mentioning, likely because of how poorly this film has been received. Hopefully this will give Yen reason to continue making films in Hollywood, where his reputation remains nothing less than stellar.
Entertainment Value: 7/10
Quality of Filmmaking: 5.5/10
Historical Significance: 3/10
Special Features: 0/10