Jade Dynasty (2019) poster

Jade Dynasty (2019)


(Zhu Xian I)

China. 2019.


Director – Ching Siu-Tung, Screenplay – Jie Shen, Based on the Novel by Jian Yang, Producer – Ning Li, Photography – Wan-Nin Chan, Music – Wan Pin Chu, Visual Effects Supervisor – Kiu Fung Kaze Yau, Production Design – Chung-Man Yee. Production Company – My Way Film Company Limited/New Classics Pictures/Hua Xia Film/iQiyi Pictures.


Xiao Zhan (Zhang Xiaofan), Meng Meiqi (Bi Yao), Li Qin (Lu Xueqi), Qiu Xinzhi (Tian Buyi), Tang Yixin (Tian Linger), Cecilia Yip (Master Shuiyue), David Chiang (Reverend Daoxuan), Norman Chui (Reverend Cangsong), Bryan Leung (Zeng Shuqiang), Li Shen (Jingyu)


There are seven mountain peaks each containing a different kung fu school. Zhang Xiaofan is an orphan that have been adopted as a child by the Dazhu Peak school after his whole village was slaughtered by the Demon Cult. Zhang tries to practice kung fu like the others at the school but is treated as a dogsbody. The schools are about to hold the tournament they do every sixty years where the pupils compete. While Zhang was abandoned as a child, a master placed a secret bead inside his head. This now emerges and takes the form of a stick that is energised by his blood and acts to defend him. The girl Bi Yao comes and connives Zhang in an effort to try and take the stick from him. Zhang is placed into the tournament as a replacement fighter for Dazhu Peak and surprises everybody when he ends up becoming a champion thanks to the stick. Now however he must deal with the forces of the Demon Cult.

Wu Xia was a genre created in Hong Kong in the 1960s and popularised during the 1980s with wildly fantastical films such as Zu: Warriors from the Magic Mountain (1983), Mr Vampire (1985) and A Chinese Ghost Story (1987). Traditional Wu Xia died away at the end of the 1990s with the handover of Hong Kong back to China only to undergo a lush, dynamic revival a few years later with Chinese-backed works like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000) and Zhang Yimou’s Hero (2002) and House of Flying Daggers (2004). This saw a body of new imitators such as The Banquet/Legend of the Black Scorpion (2006), Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame (2010) and sequels, Flying Swords of Dragon Gate (2011), The Monkey King (2014) and sequels, Zhongkui: Snow Crystal and the Dark Crystal (2015), League of Gods (2016), Sword Master (2016) and others, which reimagined the older films on epic budgets that made a virtue of lush cinematography, costuming and set dressings, while reworking the flying wirework with CGI. (For a more detailed listing, see Wu Xia Cinema).

Ching Siu-Tung was a director during the heyday of the 1980s Wu Xia film where he made classics such as A Chinese Ghost Story and its sequels, Swordsman II (1992) and The Heroic Trio (1993). In the 2000s, Ching seemed to step away from the director’s chair and preferred to spend his time as an action choreographer with Zhang Yimou on Hero, House of Flying Daggers and Curse of the Golden Flower (2006), even Uwe Boll on In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale (2007). (A full list of Ching Siu-Tung’s films as director is at the bottom of the page).

Jade Dynasty was Ching Siu-Tung’s first film as director in eight years since The Sorcerer and the White Snake (2011). Despite this now being another whole era, he adapts to the modern Chinese-made Wu Xia film like he had never left and brings the consummate skill and expertise he did to the classic films back in the 1980s/90s heyday. Ching’s visuals are breath-taking from the opening moments where the credits play out against a montage of scenes with the Dazhu Peak students flying through the clouds and conducting romantic moves in mid-air. As soon as we reach the school/monastery, this becomes a slapstick scene watching pieces of food bouncing from one person’s mouth to the next in a slow-motion juggle.

Bi Yao (Meng Meiqi) and Zhang Xiaofan (Xiao Zhan) in Jade Dynasty (2019)
Bi Yao (Meng Meiqi) and Zhang Xiaofan (Xiao Zhan)
Tian Linger (Tang Yixin) in Jade Dynasty (2019)
Tian Linger (Tang Yixin)

The enhanced budgets and access to CGI give Ching Siu-Tung the ability to create a fantasy world that his films back in the 80s and 90s never did. This is a world where the moon fills most of the sky, where fields and misty lakes come in an airbrushed hyper-real beauty that make you gasp. There is an exquisite scene not far into the film where the various students are eavesdropping on Li Qin and her maidens as they appear in a field with the maidens twirling and dancing on the end of what look like long trains of purple silk that trail down from the sky as Li Qin gracefully descends from above.

Ching creates amazing sequence like two of the women fighting in the forest, dancing and flying through the air in a series of graceful movements, twirls of silk and flights along on top of their swords. The wildest sequence is the appearance of the demon cult, which consist of a marionetteer who attacks people with a killer puppet on the ends of red cords; someone who flies in atop whirring shields on their feet that slice people up; a tall figure that swallows attackers up inside the folds of his coat; and a carriage with attendant horse team that erupts up out of the ground. Ching gets everything together for an epic battle with power blasts that fill the sky and the various martial arts teams that fly in in a massed battalion atop their swords.

You watch the film for the gorgeousness of Ching Siu-Tung’s visuals. At the same time, it is not at all clear what is going on in the film. There are assorted schools of martial arts who are training to meet up for a tournament. Xiao Zhan is one of those characters in a role that would be mandatorily played by Jackie Chan in another film – the bumbling fool who gains the Magical Artefact of power, in this case a stick that has a personality of its own. There is also three lead women running around that are often difficult to tell apart from one another, or even work out who belongs to which faction. All the story seems build up to the tournament with associated mini-dramas around various people trying to take the stick off Xiao Zhan – there is a lack of overall threat they are rallied again until the left field emergence of the Demon Cult in the last quarter of the film.

Ching Siu-Tung’s other films are:- Duel to the Death (1983), The Witch from Nepal/The Nepal Affair (1985), A Chinese Ghost Story (1987), A Chinese Ghost Story II (1990), A Terracotta Warrior (1990), A Chinese Ghost Story III (1991), Swordsman II (1992), The Heroic Trio (1993), The Heroic Trio II: Executioners (1993), The Mad Monk (1993), Swordsman III: The East is Red (1993), The Scripture With No Words (1996) and The Sorcerer and the White Snake (2011). Siu-Tung is also known as an action choreographer par excellence and has coordinated sequences on films like Shaolin Soccer (2001), Invincible (2001), Hero (2002), House of Flying Daggers (2004) and In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale (2007).

Trailer here

Actors: , , , , , , , , ,
Themes: , , , , , , ,