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TIFF 2023: ‘100 Yards’ Is A Flawed Yet Creatively Charged Kung Fu Epic

film still of 100 yards
Courtesy of TIFF

By crafting a kung fu epic infused with film noir sensibilities, Xu Haofeng and Xu Junfeng’s 100 Yards is certainly an ambitious take on a familiar genre. And while the film does have some laudable elements, it’s not nearly as inventive as what its filmmakers likely intended. Even with ample action and a truly tantalising score, this one doesn’t quite live up to expectations.

Set in 1920s China, a time when martial artists were stewards of the community, the film starts off with the death of a well-respected master. This results in a duel between his top student, Qi (Andy On), and son, Shen (Jacky Heung). As Qi comes out on top and assumes the position as head of the martial arts academy, Shen refuses to bow down and struggles to find his way back into power.

The film essentially opens up with the aforementioned duel between its two leading characters, which signposts Xu and Xu’s decision to constantly slide into action sequences without prompting or explanation. This kinetically-driven approach to action filmmaking felt like a callback to SPL (particularly the original entry), which also made no excuses for jumping into fights without any deference to the actual narrative. Plot and characterization, no matter how strong, always took a backseat to the action.

100 Yards seems to model itself in a similar manner, but as each fight erupts, there isn’t that same level of explosiveness to justify this style of narration. The fights are finely choreographed, but aren’t engaging enough to serve as the film’s raison d'etre. Perhaps it’s because On and Heung are simply not comparable to the likes of Donny Yen, Sammo Hung, and Wu Jing. As a result, 100 Yards feels disjointed and choppy, rather than riveting and refreshing.

The film is also transfixed with blending different stylistic motifs together, with An Wei’s score serving as one of the main ingredients here. Leaning heavily on notes and instrumentation from the film noir era, there’s also contemporary rock elements, which provides the film with a sense of renewed energy, particularly in the third act. And with instances of slapstick humour, femme fatale characterizations, and discourse on familial versus personal fulfilment, on paper, this should have been a recipe for creative success. The issue is that none of these elements, with the exception of the score, shine bright enough to really exemplify the film as a true stylistic marvel. Much like the abrupt fight scenes, the film as a whole, simply lacks cohesion.

What’s supposed to separate 100 Yards from other martial arts stories is its film noir packaging, which should have been bolstered by its varied stylistic choices. Certain elements do work in isolation, and the action sequences will likely please admirers of kung fu cinema. But as a whole, the film simply isn’t the alluring artistic endeavour Xu and Xu set out to create.


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