Reviewed by

Christopher Armstead

From mainland China, springing from the clutches of super Hong Kong producer Tsui Hark, we have a film that looks to be a cross between Rocky, The Karate Kid, and Snake in the Monkey’s Shadow – that last one there is for the Kung Fu purist in you, in ‘Xanda’ which is about as derivative a film that you’re going to see anytime soon, but magically, despite theft so criminal that prosecution may be warranted, it still ended up being entertaining nonetheless. 

Qiang (Wei-lin Sang) is a martial arts champion from a small town and is fed up with the current way his life is going, so he and his boy head to the big city to find to their fame and fortune and to buy a car, which looks like the two are synonymous in China.  Across town we also observe the life of Ning (Jing-Yang Ni) who has also arrived in the big city, chock full of attitude looking for her Aunt’s fiancée Wei (Jun Ten) who also ran off to the big city to find his fame and fortune, but has found success in that he happens to be the one the best fighters around and is the current champion of Xanda, which is a mixed martial arts type of battle in which contestants enter the ring and show what they can do to a live televised audience.  Fate throws these parties together at an outdoor bistro where Ning finally tracks down Wei and confronts him about his responsibilities.  Wei isn’t really trying to here any of this and is attempting to get the young woman to leave with some not too kind words.  Qiang, who is also at the bistro with his best friend, takes umbrage at Wei’s treatment of Ling and decides to get involved.  Wei is actually a pretty nice guy and apologizes for his harsh words, but Qiang decides he wants to fight anyway.  Wei tries to persuade him otherwise, but a fight breaks out and Wei easily kicks Qiangs ass despite his high level of martial arts skill.  Bad part is Qiangs boy gets seriously messed up and has to have an emergency operation to save his leg.  Ning offers to pay for the operation since she feels responsible for the fight, and though Qiang initially refuses, he concedes since he’s like broke as a joke, and he promises to pay the young woman back.

Since there is this big Xanda tourney, Qiang convinces his good friend and Xanda fighter Dragon (Zi-Long Zhao) to convince his old man and Xanda trainer Coach Tieh (Hong-Jun Zhang) to take him on as a fighter.  The old man says sure, and has Qiang do stuff like sweep floor, rake lawns and resoil plants.  I thought it was some Karate Kid type Mr. Miyagi style training stuff, but no, he was just making dude clean up because his stuff was dirty.  This still doesn’t stop Qiang from engaging in his first Xanda fight which damn near gets him killed and forces Qiang to go completely off on coach for not training him and he soon departs.  But he does get reacquainted with the lovely Ning and the two start a hot and heavy romance, despite Ning’s desire not be slaved to a man like her pathetic ass aunt.  After Dragon gets obliterated by Wei in his Xanda match, Qiang decides to rededicate himself to avenge his buddies ass kicking as well as his own shame and to find where he belongs in this world.  He suggest Ning does the same, who unknown to him is all knocked up about now.  Wrap it up dammit!  Obviously this leads to a big fight at the end between Qiang and Wei…  Can you say… Rocky II?

There is a lot to say about ‘Xanda’ as it snips off pieces of practically every clichéd sports movie made since ‘Pride of the Yankees’.  If Qiang had gave a big speech at the end and dropped dead it would have been complete.  But mostly, it simply snatches most unabashedly from the legend of the various Rocky movies, and as such there is absolutely nothing remotely fresh, or unique about ‘Xanda’ that you haven’t seen at least a dozillian times.  But it’s one thing to steal and still end up sucking, which is the norm, but it’s another thing to steal and manage to entertain which is what Xanda ends up actually doing.  One of the things that helps separate ‘Xanda’ from the crowd of also-rans are the truly genuine performance that are given by the cast of actors, who from my information, are almost all making their screen debuts.  Normally a recipe for complete disaster, these characters were able to relate to each in such a genuine, natural and realistic way that it’s very easy to find yourself absorbed into their lives.  Xanda is also film that has no identifiable villain.  Yeah, Wei is scorching fools, but only because they voluntarily chose to step in the ring and his job is beat you until the ref says cease.  What this does, if done right, is cause you to cheer for the main character only and not cheer against the villain, and it’s done quite right.  Director Marco Mak shoots a halfway decent fight scene and handles his relatively young inexperienced actors with marked skill.

Yes ‘Xanda’ lacks originality like few films before it, but in the absence of newness is was still pretty damned entertaining.  So even when they’re stealing from us, Asian filmmakers do fight movies better than we do.  That kinda sucks for us.

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