100 Yards Action

The Last Duel: A TIFF Review of ‘100 Yards’

September 15, 2023Ben MK

For general audiences, the faces of the martial arts genre may be Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan and Jet Li. However, true aficionados know that the roots of the genre extend much deeper. From the first martial arts film, 1928's The Burning of the Red Lotus Temple, to the cult classic movies of Shaw Brothers Studio, the genre's legacy is a mighty and storied one. And in 100 Yards, directors Xu Haofeng and Xu Junfeng are drawing upon that great heritage, as they set out to tell the tale of two martial arts masters embroiled in a bitter feud that will help decide the fate of their long-standing tradition.

The year is 1920, and trouble is brewing on the streets of Tianjin, China. Founded eight years earlier, the city's first martial arts academy finds itself at the center of an oncoming storm that threatens to wreak havoc on the honor of their teachings. Still reeling from the death of their beloved master — and, soon, the death of their spokesperson, Chairman Meng (Li Yuan) — the academy's elders must determine whether to entrust the future of their institution to their master's son, Shen An (Jacky Heung), or to their master's most accomplished apprentice, Qi Quan (Andy On). But when Quan decides to strike out on his own and train his own apprentices outside of Tianjin, An has no choice but to leap into action. Forced to take their rivalry beyond the walls of the academy, An must battle not only Quan, but also wave after wave of heavily armed opponents hellbent on putting him out of commission. The question is — which one of them will prevail, and which one will suffer a fate even worse than death?

Blending historical fact with lightning-fast action, what follows is part martial arts epic, part spaghetti Western. But while there's no doubting the filmmakers' commitment to delivering a somber martial arts action drama, it's the solemnity of the entire affair that holds the film back from greatness. Make no mistake, hardcore genre fans will nonetheless get a kick out of Heung's fists of fury. However, if you're seeking a martial arts extravaganza that pulls absolutely no punches, you might have to look a little further than 100 Yards.

100 Yards screens under the Centrepiece Presentations programme at the 2023 Toronto International Film Festival. Its runtime is 1 hr. 48 min.

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