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Jade Warrior
  Finnish: Jadesoturi
Zhang Jingchu and Tommi Eronen
  Year: 2006  
  Director: Antti-Jussi Annila  
  Producer: Petri Jokiranta, Tero Kaukomaa  
  Voices: Tommi Eronen, Markku Peltola, Zhang Jingchu, Krista Kosonen, Cheng Taishen, Elle Kull, Hao Dang  
The Skinny: A neat idea disappointingly executed. Jade Warrior earns points for its nifty mixture of cultures and eras, but the resulting film is oddly lacking in passion or spectacle. Nice try, though.
by Kozo:
     An unheard of combination of Finnish folklore and Chinese martial arts, Jade Warrior is an original experience, which should count for something in the current moviemaking climate of sequels, remakes, and genre retreads. Creator-director Antti-Jussi Annila has come up with an imaginative, though partially familiar premise, and dresses it up impressively, employing fine visual effects, lovingly choreographed martial arts sequences, and an air of reverence befitting a serious, epic tale. However, those are superficial accomplishments, and don't necessarily make for a successful motion picture. Jade Warrior reaches high, and attempts a mixture of elements that feels new. However, despite the value attached to uniqueness, a well-executed film is still required. Jade Warrior tries, but doesn't entirely succeed, resulting in a commendable attempt that affects less than one likely wishes. At least the film looks pretty.
     The background for Jade Warrior lies in an epic poem called the Kalevala, regarded as a classic of Finnish language literature. One portion of the Kalevala details the existence of a magical artifact called the Sampo, which is depicted in Jade Warrior as a hexagon-shaped metal box inscribed with various markings - some of them Chinese. As detailed in the film, the Sampo is supposed to bring its bearer good fortune, which is why it was desired by evil supernatural demons out to make a mess of Finland and, presumably, the rest of the world. That was centuries ago, however, and the Sampo has since fallen into myth. In the modern day, the Sampo is being researched by antique shop owner Berg (Markku Peltola), who possesses what he suspects is the mythical box, retrieved from a frozen corpse found in Northern Finland.
     Enter modern-day blacksmith Kai (Tommi Eronen), who picked up the smithing trade in order to impress girlfriend Ronja (Krista Kosonen), who has since become his ex. The guy is obsessed with strange hexagon-shaped objects, and a shared hexagon-shaped tattoo on both Kai and Ronja's necks connects them to the similarly hexagon-shaped Sampo. Thanks to this criss-crossing web of Sampo-related connections, the various players - Kai, Ronja, and Berg - get drawn together. Berg discovers that Kai may have the ability to open his suspected Sampo, but first Kai has to stop pitying himself, get a haircut, and accept that he may be some fated reincarnation of an ancient blacksmith's son. As the legend has it, the blacksmith's son is destined to kill off the evil demon who desires the Sampo, thereby saving Finland and likely the world. And yep, the evil demon is somehow still at large.
     Cue yet another flashback, this time to Ancient China, where we learn that the blacksmith's son is a guy named Singtai Seng-Pu (also Tommi Eronen), who looks non-Asian thanks to his parents' interracial marriage - a fact related in passing, along with all the Sampo backstory and plenty of other wordy, stone-faced exposition. In the present day, Berg entreats Kai to reforge the Sampo, while Kai experiences numerous flashbacks revealing his past life as Singtai. Figuring in is Singtai's past romance with Chinese warrior girl Pin Yu (Zhang Jingchu) - which apparently gets the blame for Kai's morose behavior in his present life. As Kai starts to reforge the Sampo, buried memories return to him, revealing why the conflict over the Sampo still exists, and why he's so damn depressed. All this, plus martial arts action - and one hopes there's a ton of it to make up for the film's already ponderous exposition overload.
     However, those looking for lots of epic action will likely be disappointed. While Jade Warrior does serve up doses of SFX-enhanced, slow-motion swordplay, the action is mostly artful and slow, with only one action scene having any peril attached to it. Otherwise, the scenes are mostly demonstrative, i.e., they're present to demonstrate that someone actually knows kung-fu, sometimes in a loaded Matrix-type way. The final fight sequence does prove entertaining, and even contains a few sly moments of humor, but its value is tempered by its setting: Kai's smithing workshop, where approximately 60% of the film takes place. Despite flashbacks to Ancient China and Finland, Jade Warrior feels largely confined, with few scenes really taking advantage of the film's epic settings. As such, the film seems a bit presumptuous, as its actual onscreen action feels a lot smaller than the film's pronounced, reverent tone.
     Jade Warrior seems to assume a great deal, namely that the audience will immediately accept that its story and themes are of sweeping emotional and thematic significance. There's a lot of grand stuff going on in Jade Warrior, including the cultural connections, a time-spanning love story, an epic good vs. evil conflict, and even a bitter betrayal, but it's all handled in such a ponderous manner that it starts to feel tiresome and not engaging. The film's overbearing seriousness is sometimes off-putting, leading to possible alienation or inadvertent laughter. Also, the actors are not much help. Tommi Eronen gets points for attempting his own Mandarin, and his portrayal of tortured characters is effective. However, both characters that he plays are incredibly morose and ultimately not very charismatic. Zhang Jingchu fares slightly better as Ping Yu, but she strikes few sparks with Eronen, making the love between their characters only perfunctory and not felt. There's a lot riding on that relationship, and since the film can only verbally tell us how much it means, the ultimate effect is a bit cold.
     The loss of felt emotions ultimately hurts the story. The film possesses a few plot twists, some predictable but some also quite compelling and even complex. There are some dark emotions and decisions buried in Singtai Seng-Pu that make his character much more interesting than initially advertised, but the emotions are revealed through overdone flashbacks and exposition, such that the ultimate feeling is rather inert. Jade Warrior has a lot going for it; despite the limited settings, the production values are solid, the costumes and look exceptional, and the combination of Finnish-Chinese and future-past connections has its inherent, exotic attraction. Unfortunately, there's very little to actually draw the viewer in beyond the fantasy trappings and epic literature connections. The idea is very intriguing, but the execution is too contemplative and joyless to really engage a larger global audience.
     Jade Warrior has style and grace but not enough spectacle, and parsing the film's copious exposition can be like wading through mud. The film simply lacks energy and good, old-fashioned fun, and is not engaging or passionate enough to qualify as a successful romance or drama, much less an action picture. Perhaps the filmmakers could have taken a cue from another medium, like anime and manga, which have had plenty of success combining disparate cultures into time-spanning fantasy-romance hybrids that are as entertaining as they are intricate and ridiculous. This isn't to say that going for live-action anime would necessarily have made Jade Warrior better, but would it have at least made it less boring and more watchable. Regardless of its flaws, this is still a noble, earnest attempt at a culturally-mixed fantasy film, and commendable for its effort alone. Again, however, that doesn't mean that Jade Warrior is a good film. (Kozo 2007)
Availability: DVD (Thailand)
Region 3 PAL
United Home Entertainment
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Finnish and Mandarin Language
Dolby Digital 5.1
Removable English Subtitles

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