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Finland/China 2006

Fantasy, Drama, Wuxia

Antti-Jussi Annila

Tommi Eronen
Markku Peltola
Zhang Jingchu
Chen Taisheng
Krista Kosonen
Elle Kull
Duan Yu
Dang Hao
Tong Liansheng

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Jade Warrior

Story: Kai (Tommi Eronen) is a blacksmith, whose girlfriend Ronja (Krista Kosonen) just dumped him. Being torn apart by his love he thinks of commiting suicide for his suffering to finally end.
At the same time archaeologist Berg (Markku Peltola) enters his life, who discovered a strange tool of the year 2000 B.C., that is made of a material, that shouldn't have existed at that date. Interestingly enough the tool reacts to Kai's DNA, who eventually opens it and inadvertently frees the spirit of a demon, that takes possession of Berg. Berg forces Kai to forge the "Sampo", a magical tool, that is capable of granting any wish.
While Kai is working on the Sampo, he slowly starts to remember his life 4000 years ago, when he was the hero Sintai in ancient China - a hero chosen to defeat a powerful demon. However, on his journey to the marsh the demon resides in, he decides to secretly spend a day in a nearby village, as he wants to feel as a simple human being once in his life. He meets the beautiful female warrior Pin Yu (Zhang Jingchu) in the village and falls in love with her.
Kai's and Sintai's fate seem to be intertwined. The key to finding all the answers he is searching for, lies in the question, why he didn't kill the demon once and for all when he had the chance to do so.

Review: Finland is trying it's luck in the wuxia genre. As odd as this might sound as odd is the end product. Whether the movie actually succeeds in what it is aiming for or not isn't an easy question to answer. Still, what can be said, is that the mix of "Kalevala", a Finnish epic poem, and Chinese mythology is working out better than expected, and is even pretty interesting in its core. Unfortunately, "Jade Warrior" can't manage to make the most of its potential at any time. It's an underachieved effort and those who expect a wuxia film will be disappointed, as there is nearly nothing to please the fan of the Chinese genre, apart from a few small fighting scenes, of which the best one can't even be called a fight, but more about that later on. "Jade Warrior" is a fantasy drama, that can be almost solely enchanting with its scenes in ancient China, of which there are just too few, however. It's also not easy to pinpoint if the movie is good or bad, as you won't be really enthusiastic or disappointed by this film. But maybe that is just because of the movie's strange nature and style.

One of the biggest sore points of "Jade Warrior" is without a doubt the first half, as the viewer gets thrown into the movie without any kind of introduction. We get bombarded with lots of odd infos, that we can't classify, let alone put into any context given. That makes it pretty difficult and tedious to sit through this part of the film. For many viewers there won't be much that can keep up their interest. Fortunately, my curiosity for this work that has been almost highly appraised by some critics, made me leave behind this part of the film, which lead to a second half that was luckily more comprehensible. The story about the Sampo, a magical machine, that can create heaven on earth, is derived from the finnish mythology, resp. the "Kalevala", and centers around the creation of earth. According to a fictive Chinese record this machine can also bring hell to earth. Thus, we accompany blacksmith Kai, a man torn to pieces by his lost love, as he struggles to unravel the mystery of the Sampo, since his fate seems to be closely linked to it in some way.

Most of the time the movie takes place in Finland, taking us into run-down and messy rooms. Only Kai's smithy is an interesting set. However, very often we follow Kai into his memories of a time when he was epic hero Sintai, whose road was pre-determined by a prophecy, that said that he is the one chosen to defeat the nameless demon that strives to bring hell onto earth. His reward will be that he never gets reborn again, but instantly wins his place in heavenly paradise. Anyway, Sintai meets the warrior Pin Yu in a village and the love drama runs its inevitable course, as Sintai, naturally, wants to meet Pin Yu along with his love for her in every future life of his.
That's also when some plot holes, or narrating strands that seem rather incomprehensible, emerge. Why is there a need to create a second Sampo? Maybe I'm wrong, but the first machine looks exactly like the second one and as we get to understand the purpose of the first one towards the end, it becomes even more unclear why the villian wants a second one. But even if this is just a one-wish-only machine, why isn't Kai just making a wish instead of more or less letting Berg have his way?

Maybe I'm just not familiar enough with the finish mythology to hold forth about the story. However, the movie's resolving is quite appealing and somehow reminds us of the story about Pandora's Box. The story doesn't lack the necessary tragic and many scenes can be more touching than you would have expected when thinking about the rather dull rest of the film. Although dull might not be the right word to describe it. It's more like the movie is quite alienating.
Furthermore, some aspects of the film aren't elaborated well enough. The love story with Ronja is such a case, as it never gets the necessary impact it should have had, and therefore feels contrived and forced. It's nothing more than a tool to keep the plot moving. Moreover, the story is narrated without a real structure.
Berg seems odd as the villian, but strangely enough this also makes him more three-dimensional than he actually is. The rest of the cast of the modern time line is giving a rather shallow performance. Tommi Eronen, who is playing Kai/Sintai delivers a nice performance, though, especially as the hero in ancient China, as we can actually feel the weight of the burden on his shoulders. He even had to learn some lines of Mandarin-Chinese.
Zhang Jingchu ("Seven Swords") makes good use of her short time on screen and shows that she is a promising young actress.

The cinematography in ancient China is very beautiful and enchants with its magical pictures. Especially, the scene when Sintai first sees Pin Yu, or the film's best fight scene, which actually is more a mating ritual than anything else, can impress with their beauty. There are also some nice special effects, e.g. the leaves that Pin Yu disperses when making her special attack, that are very eye-catching. There is only one small scene in the modern time that can keep up with that, namely when Kai is hammering on his anvil and flashing sparkles fill the smithy. Therefore, it's no wonder that we really would have liked to spend more time in ancient China than in Finland. Unfortunately, director Antti-Jussi Annilas doesn't grant us this wish. Moreover, it's also very frustrating, that we only get to hear of certain parts of the story summarized by a narrator. It would have been nice to see a few more fights every now and then, too
In the end, "Jade Warrior" is no real Wuxia movie and sadly also disappoints on other levels. The story, even if quite muddled at the beginning, certainly is one of the film's strong points, as well as the nice love story and the neat performances by the main cast. But somehow when everything is taken into account, there is just something essential missing. "Jade Story" may be a movie that might be recommenable, simly because of its inventive genre mix, but eventually it drops way behind what it actually could have become. Way behind...

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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