Story: The Song Dynasty is at war with the Khitan, who founded the Liao Empire. As a little baby Qiao Feng (Donnie Yen) was abandoned and raised in Song. He has since become an outstanding fighter and is one of the masters of the Beggar Sect, the largest sect in the Empire committed to protecting the weak. One day, however, one of the sect's masters is killed and his wife accuses Qiao Feng of being the murderer. In addition, there is a letter stating that if the master died, only Qiao Feng could be the perpetrator. Moreover, Qiao Feng is branded being a Khitan. He has to leave the sect, but swears to find the real killer and uncover the truth about his past. Shortly afterwards, he is also accused of murdering his parents and his kung fu master. While Qiao Feng tries to find out who wants to frame him for the murders and, above all, why, the young woman Ah Zhu (Chen Yuqi) gets injured because of him. He has to take her to a healer, but the best one in the country belongs to the beggar sect. Knowing full well that his former brothers are seeking his life, he still visits them. There, he is almost killed, but a mysterious warrior saves him. The entanglements around Qiao Feng continue to increase, but the truth is also getting closer and closer for the outcast swordsman.
Review: It's actually not that difficult to make a good wuxia movie if you draw inspiration from the material of Jin Yong (aka Louis Cha), the master of the genre. At least, that's what one would think. But that's wrong. First of all, the (sword) fights obviously need to have the appropriate level of quality, secondly - and much more importantly so - the story has to have epic proportions and the typical entanglements, in which everyone is related to one another at least in some kind of way, but without turning things into a telenovela. And with Donnie Yen ("Raging Fire") you should have the right man for the job when it comes to the action. But is that also the case when he is behind the camera? The answer will be disappointing: "Sakra" gives away its potential at every turn and has so many problems that I cannot even deal with all of them in this review.
At least, the beginning is quite promising. The fight in the tavern offers everything you would expect from a wuxia flick. Spectacular attacks that wreak havoc on the tavern, supernatural abilities in form of fighting styles that don't resort to cheap special effects, and enough practical wire-fu to remind us of the good old days of the genre (especially the 80s and 90s). But the anticipation you might feel as you can't wait to see what awaits us next, fizzles out quite quickly. And sadly, the introduction remains the highlight of the movie in terms of choreography, because the showdown can't keep up in that regard. But at least, it goes in the same direction, which cannot be said about the fights across the rest of the story.
The story is based on the novel "Demi-Gods and Semi-Devils", which was already adapted for the screen as a TV show a number of times (e.g. in 2003 in a rather successful version -> "see here"). However, this time only one of the three protagonists is focused on, which is understandable given the scope of the story. Unfortunately, Donnie Yen still doesn't manage to create the slightest feeling of an epic tale, though. Instead, the movie seems to be divided in two parts, the first half turning out quite long-winded after the introduction, while the second half finally gains some momentum, but loses it again towards the finale. Above all, it is annoying that towards the end you are repeatedly confronted with scenes that are supposed to be big twists, but you weren't able to spend enough time with the characters in order to actually register them as such. Of course, a series with, let's say, forty episodes has it easier in this respect, but even in a movie you could expect at least a little bit more of an epic scope.
The big problem here is the script, which not only needed better writing in order to work for a two-hour movie, but even comes with terrible dialogue. Some scenes are so cheesy that they just won't fit in with the beautifully decorated sets. In addition, Donnie Yen is not necessarily the best actor if he has to get something more than coolness out of his role, and the rest of the cast does not show brilliant performances either. But, as mentioned before, this might simply be difficult for an actor if all you get from the script are flat dialogues. "Sakra" somehow managed to be as corny as you would expect from a TV series, even though, nowadays, those are sometimes even much better than what we get here. Moreover, too much of the story is boiled down to the bare minimum so that the relationship between Qiao Feng and Ah Zhu simply does not work at all. Furthermore, characters like Duan Zheng Chun and Ah Zhi are introduced much too late, so that you sometimes even feel blindsided by the new characters.
The fact that a common theme is missing is also evident in other areas of the movie, such as the soundtrack. Traditional and Western sounds get haphazardly mixed together with Irish and Oriental influences, without becoming clear why exactly. Then there's an epilogue that is supposed to prove once more how epic the story supposedly is, but just leaves the audience confused. Donnie Yen's direction also does not follow a clear path and in terms of quality it's rather average. Because of the extensive story, there sadly is not as much room for wuxia fights as you would have wished for, and so the movie can't play to its real strength and leaves us stranded in that respect as well. But even in this watered-down version, the story with its various entanglements is still interesting enough to make you keep watching. That being said, those who already know the original material in whatever version will be quite disappointed here. Generally speaking, "Sakra" is thus a missed chance when it comes to recreating the feel of an old-school wuxia flick...