Saturday, September 09, 2006

Jade Warrior (Jade Soturi)

Jade Warrior is an interesting first feature film from director Antti-Jussi Annila that melds Finnish cinema with Chinese martial arts, and Finnish and Chinese mythology. The film contains two parallel storylines; one in the past in China revolving around a hero who is destined to both battle a demon and be betrayed by the woman he loves; the second storyline finds a blacksmith in present-day Finland in the midst of a breakup with his girlfriend. She dumps some of his iron works off at a mysterious store run by a couple of archeologists, who have found a body buried in Finland clutching an ornate metal box with Chinese inscriptions. This act sets off a chain of events that connects the past to the present day, and leads to a final conflict between the reincarnated souls of the original heroes and villains.

Jade Warrior creatively manages to link two cultures and two mythos. The film jumps back and forth between the past in China and the present in Finland, and gradually more and more is revealed about what happened and how it connects to the present. The scenes in China are reminiscent of films such as Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon or House of Flying Daggers in terms of mood and setting, and the martial arts here are quite well done.

Lead actor Tommi Eronen does a commendable job acting in the contemporary Finnish scenes and the historic Chinese scenes, even to the extent of delivering his lines in Chinese. The film was an intriguing and different take on what could have been just another martial arts epic; the connection to the present, and more surprisingly, to Finland, offers a new perspective.

Director Antti-Jussi Annila was in attendance and did a Q&A after the showing:

  • The movie is based on the Finnish national epic, Kalevala, an epic poem compiled from Finnish poems and folklore.
  • Annila grew up watching Wuxia films, and had a dream to film one.
  • The film doesn't really follow Kalevala, but rather comes mainly from the head of main screenwriter Iiro Küttner.
  • The story takes from Kalevala the main element that makes it unique from other epics; while the Kalevala tells stories of heroes, sorcery, and heroic deeds, it is always a story of man seeking woman and her love; in Kalevala the hero never gets the girl.
  • The process of making the movie started in film school 6 years ago (at the end of 1999). He couldn't sell just the idea, so he did an independent project in school, basically 10 minutes of the film's opening sequence, taking over a year to make. By the end of 2001 he started getting producers.
  • The Finnish actors did not have martial arts training; the leads trained for 1.5 months before filming.
  • The action choreographer was a Chinese man living in Sweden, but Annila didn't speak Swedish, and the choreographer didn't speak Finnish or English. Through a translator, the choreographer asked Annila if he liked the action to be pa-pa-pa-pow, or woosh-woosh-woosh; Annila replied he wanted pa-pa-pa-woosh.
  • Both Finnish and Chinese mythologies refer to sampo; in Kalevala, a smith forges the sampo to get the woman he loves, and bring happiness to world. The man who collected the poems making up Kalevala also collected poems from the east, which included one fellow in Finland who traveled farther than anyone else; this man met an old monk who told him of temple in China called sangfu, which translates to something like the secret source of all happiness, and the Mongols used to pronounce it sampo.
  • The budget for the film was approximately 2.7 million euros.
  • All the exteriors of modern day Finland were shot in Estonia.
  • All the Chinese scenes were filmed 4 hours outside of Shanghai.
  • The Finnish ambassador to Canada was in the audience.
  • The movie is slated to be released in mid-October, and was finished only a week before the festival started.


My experiences at the Toronto International Film Festival. Note this blog is not affiliated with the Toronto International Film Festival Group or the festival itself.
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