Donnie Yen has been a staple of martial arts cinema for decades now. He’s battled drug dealers in In the Line of Duty IV (1989), immortals in Highlander: Endgame (2000), reluctantly alongside the daywalker in Blade II (2002), and just about everything in between. Along the way, he’s also sat in the director’s chair five times with the sixth time being an adaptation of author Jin Yong’s Demi-Gods and Semi-Devils titled Śakra. Co-directed by Kam Ka Wai, Śakra is a martial arts wuxia fan’s dream, replete with clanging swords, mysticism, desire for revenge, and quests for justice. Intended as a part one, Śakra hit theaters in the U.S. in April 2023 with a digital release coming soon after. Now, Well Go USA releases Śakra on physical media to be enjoyed at one’s leisure and accompanied by a brief making-of featurette to inform audiences on Yen’s approach to directing this epic project.
To learn about Śakra in a spoiler-free context, head over to the initial theatrical release review. Moving forward, there will be specific details discussed.
China 1000 A.D.. Leader of the Beggar’s Sect Qiao Feng (Yen) finds himself stripped of his rank and titles when he’s accused of not only murdering one of the group’s masters, but of being a native of the Liao Empire with whom they are at constant war. Despite being hunted by everyone he once trusted with his life, he remains undeterred to learn the truth, clear his name, and restore peace among the Beggar’s Sect. What he doesn’t realize is that someone’s operating in the shadows in hopes of not only removing Qiao Feng from power, but from the board entirely.
In my initial review, I pointed out that being unfamiliar with Yong’s novel may prove to be a detriment to understanding the film completely. The introduction of Qiao Feng is rushed, narrative choices don’t make a whole lot of sense, and the multiple endings imply a grandness or shock that means very little to those without the background. A rewatch at home doesn’t clear up any of this. Instead, it just makes it clearer that the long-running story, Demi-Gods and Semi-Devils, a serial that ran from September 1963— May 1966, requires more time in the first feature to lay the groundwork of what’s to come (making the already lengthy actioner perhaps too unwieldy) or works best when it can utilize a series of cliff-hangers via short-form storytelling to develop investment and bring people back. While one can appreciate the sense that feuds between people lead to distrust (we’re seeing it in unprecedented ways in the U.S. thanks to politics and COVID-19), that the whole of the Beggar’s Sect would turn on Qiao Feng without question, that Qiao Feng doesn’t connect that Azhu (Yukee Chen) is connected to his banishment, that Qiao Feng allows himself to be setup as a tool for someone else’s treachery so easily toward the end of the film, is all very odd and against the undercurrent of the film and the characterization as presented in the film. It all may make sense in the novel, but not in the cinematic adaptation. I very much want to care that Qiao Feng was abandoned as an infant and celebrate in the return of his father (for some reason also played by Yen). I also want to care that the father of backstabbing Murong Fu (Wu Ye), Ray Lui’s Murong Bo, appears, but the film has done nothing to justify any reaction other than “who?”. Thankfully, at least the action delivers and, from what the “Making Of” featurette indicates, more was added to the film to ensure Yen fans get the fight sequences they expect.
For those who enjoyed the film, especially the cinematography, be advised that the only way to get a 4K UHD edition is to import it. Well Go USA is only releasing Śakra in Blu-ray and DVD physical formats. Thankfully, the on-disc presentation looks and sounds great, so the strong home-viewing fidelity is sure to delight fans of the film. I can’t think of a time when Well Go has distributed a poor disc and Śakra is no exception. Where the film does disappoint is in the bonus features, which are very thin. There’s a nearly six-minute “Making Of” featurette and a theatrical trailer and that’s it, outside of the typical Well Go preview trailers. On the bright side, the featurette does offer insight straight from Yen on his thoughts on both directing and adapting Yong’s novel. Of particular interest is the way he describes taking the elements of the book as they relate to Qiao Feng’s fighting style and marrying it with his own. Additionally, we get a little bit from some of the supporting cast who discuss Yen approach to direction, all while we get to see short behind the scenes snippets of cast and crew making the film. It’s not much, but it’s certainly something.
If there’s one thing to film does extraordinarily well, it makes one curious for what follows. Not in an on-the-edge-of-your-seat way as Alienoid (2022) does with its cliff-hanger or by seeing a familiar face in The Roundup: No Way Out (2023), but because there’s clearly something that this first film, with all of its world building, it seeking to do. Given Yen’s penchant for leaving everything he has in his films and that Yen is playing double-duty as both Qiao Feng and his father means that the follow-up story will only include even more Yen action. I won’t be waiting with baited breath to see what happens next, but I will be cautiously optimistic.
Śakra Special Features:
- Śakra: Making Of (5:44)
- Theatrical Trailer (2:15)
- Three (3) Well Go USA Previews
Available on digital April 18th, 2023.
Available on Blu-ray and DVD June 13th, 2023.
For more information, head to the official Well Go USA’s Śakra webpage.