JUDGE ARCHER (2012) is the second film directed by martial artist / novelist / author by GRANDMASTER Xu Haofeng. It’s undoubtedly more accessible than his debut, THE SWORD IDENTITY, because it’s bigger, has a lot more action and is not too hung up on realism to exaggerate the martial art. But in the end, the story had taken so many crooked turns that even I could not quite keep up with it all.
It is okay. It is an unusual martial arts experience that I recommend if you are open and enjoy the good things in life such as duels, arrows, swords, etc.
Song Yang (who also starred in THE SWORD IDENTITY) plays a young man who goes berserk after a cruelty that just happened when the opening titles end. We do not have to see anything, but the way it is depicted is terrifying: a strong wind blows through the cornfields, and three peasants stand and watch while two men pin him down. Just over a hill he can hear his sister screaming, and then a guy comes across the hill, pulls up his pants and walks with the other two men.
Suddenly we find our guy tied up and gagged in a convent. The monks found him in rage and blamed himself for not being able to stop the attack on his sister. They perform a ritual for him to be reborn, and tell him, “When you jump over the wall, the words spoken by the first person you meet will be your new name.” On his journey, he hears someone shout “Judge Archer!” followed by gunshots, so when an old monk hiding in the bushes asks him for his name, he says, “Judge Archer.”
“Judge Archer is also my name,” said the old man. “From now on, you and I will share the same name.” Accidentally recording this guy’s ‘damn name’, he becomes the seventh generation of “Judge Archer”, an arbitrator who travels around and settles disputes between martial arts schools.
Most of the story takes place years later, as our new judge Archer is a master fighter (and yes, archer) who comes to a city to test the schools. We see and learn some of his methods, such as firing four closely spaced arrows into a school to announce his arrival. A signature that is hard to fake. We only see it when he interrupts two schools that are about to embark on it with broad swords and tells them to “settle it over a cup of tea.”
My favorite thing in this movie is a fighting method I’ve never seen before and I have no idea if it’s real or fictitious. It’s called the “near-duel,” and it opens the film and is repeated throughout. Two competitors pull small benches close together, sit opposite each other with their knees almost touching, and then struggle sitting with a quick exchange of hand and foot movements.
I’m surprised Seagal hasn’t figured this out yet – he loves making movies where he can sit down all the time. It reminds me a bit of the way Beatrix Kiddo finally kills Bill, especially in the opening duel, where a guy seems to have lost, but he gets up, and as he walks away, his opponent falls over as if he were dead. Another time, in the same melee, the same master tilts a guy’s head back and forth between his forearms so hard that his chair shakes and overturns all the plaques on a shrine to the ancestors. Some symbolism there, I think.
Judge Archer is so good that he wins a close-up duel shortly after fainting full of seven bottles of wine. Then he uses his hat to knock out a guy who attacks him with a seal right outside the restaurant. Xu’s imagination and / or vast knowledge of different ways to fight really comes through in this one. A woman named Erdong (Yenny Martin) holds a piece of twine wrapped around her wrist, which she uses as a weapon, and pulls it around men’s necks or through their fingers to render them incapacitated.
When Judge Archer wakes up in bed with Erdong, he jumps under the bed, reaches up and puts her in an arm lock, gets the string around his neck. This tension continues later in a hotel room where she puts her hands around him, he puts her down on the bed, she jumps up with two knives and they duel! He fastens her to the bed with a chair to keep her away.
Although her attempts at seduction make him angry, he agrees to help her avenge her father’s killer, Commander Yang. He spies on the commander by opening a fruit stand, which he passes every day on his way to his accordion lessons, guarded by Kuang Yimin (Cheng-Hui Yu, SHAOLIN TEMPLE), the master who won the opening duel up close. Kuang stops every day at the fruit stall to get a pear, which he carries around and smells (though he also knows a trick to twist the stem and pull out the core).
The judge also meets a sad opera singer named Yue Yahong (Chengyuan Li, HOUSE OF FLYING DAGGERS), who enjoys both pears and hugs and tries to sell herself to him for 15 apples. He gives in to the temptation, towards his training, and immediately decides to stop being Judge Archer to run away from her. What is this, a Batman movie? The bad news is that she’s actually Kuang’s wife, sent to spy on this new orchard man to find out what he’s up to. Judge Archer outwitted Kuang by asking him to exchange Yang’s life for his wife’s, and so just leave her alive knowing he agreed to it.
It’s a good story, as much as I can follow it, but even when I can’t, there’s just infinitely enjoyable individual scenes and duels. Like the one where Judge Archer enters a school and receives all the students inside, and systematically plows through them until only a few stand. When it looks like he’s done, another 15 to 20 guys step out, most with wooden poles or swords, and he continues. As he leaves one of the teachers, he chases after and asks, “Why did you do that?” He pauses for a moment and smiles. I actually do not know the answer to that question, but I loved it!
There is also the duel between Kuang and his protege, using long wooden poles. You know the shit is serious when they hit them against trees to break the ends off and make them sharp.
Also, Judge Archer goes back to his village and fucks the guy who raped his sister. Catch him walking through the same cornfield, shoot the hat off with an arrow. Then one through each leg. People standing and looking as before. Must be pure cultivator.
The final duel is between Judge Archer and Kuang, and it is the opposite of a close duel: Judge Archer sits in a chair and shoots arrows at a long distance, but Kuang blocks them with a spear as he moves towards him until they can return to the hand. to reach.
Xu is so good at the weird little details. Judge Archer sometimes holds up an arrow and stares at it because it has cuts in it from his hotel room’s knife duel with Erdong. General Yang has an accordion for all his scenes, but we never see him play it; it finally makes a sound when he dies and it overturns.
The sound effects in this one are just beautiful. Wooden poles piling apart, scraping against each other, metal leaves sliding across the ring armor, skulls sticking against wooden pillars, string snapping and lightning when swung around people and tightened, the gentle flap of the footwork. I love the combination of more-realistic-than-normal and just-as-exaggerated-as-you-expected.
I think it’s fair to criticize this one for the fact that some of the visual storytelling and narration is hard to calculate, but it also has just the right tone, so a little mystery and confusion feels pretty natural. It is a beautiful and distinct martial arts film that I found captivating from start to finish at two separate screenings.
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