A Chinese film based on the wuxia novel Demi-Gods and Semi-Devils by Jin Yong, Sakra follows the story of Qiao Feng (Donnie Yen), the current master of the Beggars Gang.
Born a Khitan but raised in the Song Empire, Qiao Feng is caught up in the war between the Song and the Khitan-led Liao when, after devoting his entire life as a Song to the Beggars Gang, a rumor starts to spread that he has killed the group’s patriarch, Master Ma.
Forced to step down as leader of the Beggars Gang, Qiao Feng goes into hiding, but his problems only escalate when he is soon accused of having also killed his adopted parents and one of his best friends.
Outcast from the only family he’s ever known, Qiao Feng seeks answers in the most vengeful way he knows how.
Directed and produced by Yen, Sakra is slightly confusing from the start.
For example, Qiao Feng and a handful of others including Buddhist monks have superhuman abilities, but there are never any explanations as to why.
Yen once stated that Sakra was his answer to superhero films and the X-Men in particular, so it would lead one to believe that the abilities Qiao Feng showcases in the film aren’t reached through standard martial arts training as some wuxia films tend to demonstrate, but the audience is never told anything either way.
Then there’s the fact that Qiao Feng also comes across as near invincible at times.
At the beginning of the film, he willingly stabs himself in the abdomen four times so his brothers wouldn’t be punished for his crime, but he totally no-sells it and proceeds to ride away on horseback as if nothing happened.
He’s also seen fighting hordes of opponents in nearly every action sequence, starting out at around ten but increasing to about 200 in the middle of the film, and at one point fights off 20 guys one-handed while carrying someone in his other arm.
His super-human durability doesn’t affect the overall action sequences, as it only makes the end result more thrilling, but it’s a particular choice to avoid giving an explanation as to how he’s able to survive considering that it leaves the only hint to the fact in the title of the film’s source novel.
Donnie Yen is clearly having a ton of fun in Sakra. He seems to let the wires do most of the work, as he’s constantly sliding across the ground or gliding through the air every chance he gets.
Qiao Feng’s greatest strength is that he’s able to control wind, which partiallys explain his flying squirrel-like ability. He also utilizes this power when he fights, using the wind to blow his opponents around.
The coolest use of this is that when in close combat, he can use the wind to blow clouds of blood out of his enemies – as if he’s causing internal damage with just a wave of his hand.
Sakra is a 130-minute film that suffers from a lack of proper editing. For the first hour, the film has a fairly decent pace, but it wanders so much in its second half.
Seeing Qiao Feng go into hiding for a second time is odd, and you can only watch Donnie Yen ride a horse in slow-motion so many times before it gets redundant.
At one point, to illustrate that his ties to the men he knew for so long are now severed, Qiao Feng shares a drink with every person that wants to kill him. The point could have gotten across with cuts of each individual after every drink, but instead the sequence has every character share mostly unimportant dialogue before smashing their cup on the floor over and over again.
The relationship between Qiao Feng and Azhu (Chen Yuqi) also seems forced.
Introduced as someone Qiao Feng insists on saving because he feels responsible for once nearly causing her death, Azhu is a master of disguise who can almost perfectly duplicate her intended target and the only person our protagonist trusts throughout the film.
They spend a lot of time together and have a close bond, but there’s never any romance or intimacy besides riding next to each other on horseback, coming across as mutual acquaintances until the random moment where Qiao Feng refers to Azhu as his wife.
There’s a Danish psychological drama from 2012 called The Hunt starring Mads Mikkelsen and directed by Thomas Vinterberg (Another Round), wherein Mikkelsen’s character Lucas loses his job and every close friend he’s ever had because of hearsay, that shares similar themes with Sakra.
Since Sakra takes place before the likes of electricity and social media, its story is slightly more believable than The Hunt‘s, but it’s still fairly infuriating since there’s no proof to accusations that drive the films’ respective plots apart from, “so-and-so told me this so it must be true.”
Visually, it’s as if the film chooses to be ugly. There’s some beautiful choreography buried beneath the ugliest shades of browns, greens, and burnt mustard yellows. Sakra has this muddy and murky sepia tone that is undeniably a questionable choice.
As for CGI, its limited use throughout the rest of the film makes the special effects seem better than they actually are – that is, until the final battle, where it’s over utilized to the point of collapsing on itself.
But none of this can distract from how its story feels like it’s stretched beyond its means – which is especially odd since Sakra is not only based on a book, but also has six screenwriters.
Sakra is a really fun action film trapped within the confines of a convoluted melodrama which is mostly only worthwhile if you’re a hardcore fan of wuxia films or a Yen enthusiast.
The martial arts legend has a strong on-screen presence and is as talented as ever when it comes to anything martial arts related, but Sakra drags its feet with its storytelling, meandering aimlessly between spurts of heavy action.
- Donnie Yen.
- The wuxia is ridiculous and the film's biggest attribute.
- Second hours feels long.
- Poor editing and shoddy CGI
- A baddling screenplay that shouldn’t feel be anything but