Dir: Antti-Jussi Annila. Fin-Neth-Chi-Est.2006. 100mins.
Making a kung fu film in Finland sounds so bizarrethat it might just work, especially when it combines the Scandinavian epic taleKalevala, about valiant warriors unhappy in love, withChinese mythology. But expecting a first-time film-maker to tackle such a task isasking too much - and certainly martial arts devotee and director Antti-Jussi Annila looks lost onthe evidence of full-scale epic JadeWarrior.
Much closer to the dark,brooding mood of the northern lights than the lightning-fast chop socky of Asia, JadeWarrior over-relies on narration to tell its story and images to decorateit but fails to deliver enough of the genre's requisite excitement and visualinspiration. It also lacks the necessary humour to pull it out of tightcorners.
Jumping back and forthbetween ancient China and present day Finland, the plot is muddled andhesitant, while Tommi Eronen,who plays the lead in both time periods, is one of the screen's gloomierkung-fu masters. For most territories it will be more of a curio item than a fully-fledgedfeature, although it is could get some traction in Asia thanks to its martialarts theme.
In ancient times themythical Seng-pu, the Chinese blacksmith, forged amachine he called the Sampo, which was supposed tobring eternal happiness and wealth to all. But a demon stole it and turned itinto a gate of hell. Only the smith's son, Sintai (Eronen), a monk in a remote monastery, can ever hope toretrieve the loss - but he is too busy falling in love with a village girl, PinYu (Zhang Jing Chu), to fulfilhis mission.
Sintai, when his love is denied, assembles an army ofmonks, goes after the demon, cuts his head off, entrusts it to his faithfulwolf and sends it, in a sealed box, to the northernmost reaches of the world. Solong as no one will find the box, Sintai will bereborn time and again. Every time he is reborn, he will try to conquer hisgirl's heart.
Cut to present day Finland, whena mummy holding a mysterious box turns up at the shop of Berg (played by Kaurismaki veteran Markku Peltola), a Kalevala scholar. Atthe same store Ronja (Kosonen)leaves all her just-dumped boyfriend Kai's (again Eronen)belongings. Berg takes the whole lot to the inconsolable lover, who lives in aremote shack and also happens to be the son of a blacksmith.
The evident conclusion isthat Sintai is now Kai, that Ronjais a later incarnation of Pin Yu and, by association,Berg can't help but be the modern version of the ancient demon.
To complicate mattersfurther, the present and past stories are told at the same time, since Kai issupposed to relive his memories of the past as he is longing for the absent Ronja. Between long stretches of studious dialogue andexplanations, there are a few expositions of kung-fu, but none of them iseither elegant or imaginative enough to parlay with the genre's best.
Lightness in all senses ofthe word is one thing that Jade Warriorbadly needs, both in the director's approach to the material and the luminosityof the images on screen. Though evident efforts have been made to ensure theproduction looks as opulent as possible, neither the production design nor the CGeffects make much of an impression. Certainly it is no match for the grandspectacles offered by Chinese cinema in recent years.
While there may be somecrossover between the Kalevala and Chinese myths, noeffort is taken to elaborate any further, save for the similarity between theFinnish and Chinese words for "happiness".
Of the support, the only onewho seems to enjoy themselves is MarkkuPeltola, who is allowed a whole gamut of martial artsmoves which are usually reserved for much younger performers.
Blind Spot Pictures
Finnish Film Foundation
Rezo Films International