Reviewed by

Christopher Armstead

I didn’t even know Finland had a film industry much less a Kung Fu film industry, but here we are somewhere outside of Helsinki with freshman director Antti Jussi-Annila’s film, which is a take on a Finnish tale and a Chinese legend, ‘Jade Warrior’. Now we are going to see if this young man can channel the ghost of Ang Lee (who’s not dead by the way) and give us a Finnish take on ‘Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon’.

This is a tale which is split between two different times, one being in the present and the other taking place 2000 years before the Birth of Christ. In the present, a pair of anthropologist named Berg (the late Markku Pertola) and Weckstrom (Elle Kull) have stumbled upon an ancient chest buried deep in the ice along with a pair mummified bodies and the remains of a dog. The chest is protected from being opened by an intricate series of locks that makes it near impossible for any normal person to unlock. One day a pretty girl named Ronja (Krista Kosonen) wanders into the storefront operated by these scientist and donates some metal work that her now ex-boyfriend has made for her, one of which contains the secret to opening this chest as Berg has just discovered. When we’re introduced to Ronja’s ex-boyfriend Kai (Tommi Eronen), we learn that he is blacksmith on the verge of suicide, completely distraught that his woman has grown weary of him and has departed his life. Only when Berg brings him this chest and informs him that he is the only one that can open it does Kai find some new purpose, at least temporarily, which keeps him from taking his own life.

In the past scenearios a hooded man and a woman named Pin Yu (Jingchu Zhang) chase a dog that is carrying this ancient chest and once they have caught it, they have vowed that they will protect it with their lives. We know now that these are the people who the anthropologist found in the ice, but we will have to wait a while to discover the identity of the hooded man. Before this occurs we will meet a mystical monk named Sintai, also played by Tommi Eronen, who is gearing up for a mission that he has

been groomed for his entire life. What this mission will be is far too complicated to get all into but it involves his superior kung fu skills. As he prepares for this mission, Sintai meets the beautiful Pin Yu and has found his one true love, but this discovery of love will complicate this mission of his and have long lasting ramifications to this current world and possibly even leading to its destruction. Eventually it will fall into the hands of the Kai, Sintai reborn, to complete a task that he was marked to complete some 4000 years ago.

‘Jade Warrior’ is a film that starts very slowly and features a narrative which at best is as clear muddy water, at least early on. I’m am unfamiliar with the legends that Annila has based his film on which is bad for me since the story did very little to help me understand exactly what these legends were and how it bridged between the diametric cultures of the Fins and the Chinese. One of the problems I believe that worked against Annila was the inclusion of the character of Ronja as she served very little purpose, if any purpose in the actual story, and attempting to integrate her into it just got in the way. Krista Kononen is certainly a tall and pretty woman, and it’s not her acting ability that was the problem, just the fact that it seemed that she was shoehorned into the story because someone felt the story needed to have a tall pretty European woman somewhere in the movie.

Fortunately as the film moves along and the focus shifts more on the story of the past than the tribulations of the present, things start to fall into place and the somewhat convoluted plot begins to start making a little bit of sense. Annila’s script is certainly an ambitious one with some mighty big ideas as he has crafted a rather complex and involved mythology to base his film around, but I tip my cap to the man because what starts out as tedious and vague ultimately ends up being rewarding and clever, at least in my opinion.

As far as the action sequences in ‘Jade Warrior’ it is really more of a sweeping dramatic epic with just a couple of fight scenes tossed in, but the fight scenes were very nicely done with the best part being how being they were integral to the story and not just fight scenes because somebody had some spare wires lying around and thought that ‘Hero’ was cool, so let’s have a fight scene. Annila also paints a beautiful picture with the vast ice covered landscapes and some judicious use of a few CGI elements here and there, but nothing to oppressive.

Did I understand all of the elements the story teller was trying slide across here? Hardly, but I did understand enough to ultimately find this film entertaining. ‘Jade Warrior’ will challenge most of us to stay with it during its rocky sputtering start, but if you don’t give up on it, I think it offers a relatively unique film watching experience.

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