Liu Jin-xi (Donnie Yen) has a history of violence he’d prefer to keep hidden. To his neighbors in the tranquil Chinese village he calls home, Liu is a kindly paper worker with a wife and two kids. But after he dispatches a pair of thieves with vagus-nerve–smashing precision, the family-man facade begins to crack. It turns out that Liu is a former martial artist with ties to a ruthless group of warriors called the 72 Demons. A sickly detective named Xu Bai-jiu (Takeshi Kaneshiro) takes a meddlesome interest in Liu. And so does the 72 Demons’ vicious leader (Yu Wang), who wants nothing more than to confront this deserter and punish him…permanently.
The drama is pure boilerplate: Every scene between Liu and his family has a too-idealized tinge that feels more let’s-get-through-this perfunctory than satirically pointed. And the annoyingly hectoring Xu never seems like a worthy antagonist in the brains-versus-brawn way the movie intends. Fortunately, there are a good number of Yen-choreographed action scenes to break up the monotony. It’s hard to pick a favorite, though the jaw-dropping climactic clash between Liu and his former master gets a slight edge for the giddy ways it pays homage to Wang’s classic roles in wuxia films like The One-Armed Swordsman and Master of the Flying Guillotine. Hi-ya!-accentuated kung fu smackdowns make everything better.
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