TIFF 2023: 100 Yards Review

The Xu brothers direct a galaxy-brained martial arts epic.

Badassery has a new name, and it’s Jacky Heung. While some martial artists strive to take the art form to new heights, in 100 Yards, Heung is gunning for new dimensions. He delivers an electrifying performance that’s must-see viewing for action movie fans. 

100 Yards is an action movie epic co-directed by brothers Haofeng Xu and Junfeng Xu. It tells a simple story with subtle complexity about two rivals competing for ownership of a martial arts academy. This intense and masterfully choreographed action movie is a total knockout that deserves your attention. The story begins in a martial arts academy in Tianjin, China during the 1920s. A dying martial arts master leaves behind his academy to his top student Qi Quan (Andy On), bypassing his own son, Shen An (Jacky Heung). Shen, also a gifted student, is the natural successor, but his father intends for him to leave the wushu academy behind for a better life as a banker. 

Qi and Shen fight to lead the academy, but Qi has some of his master’s tricks up his sleeve and handily defeats Shen, who refuses to accept his defeat. Shen later attempts to fight Qi on the street in a surprise attack, but the wushu academy’s dirty laundry shouldn’t be aired in public. He is shamed and cast out for his disrespectful behaviour. Shen accepts his fate and takes the banking job, while Qi uses his new position to break from tradition and expand his power, extending the academy’s reach and teaching martial arts to outsiders. Shen returns to the community that scorned him with a new-found focus, determined to stop Qi’s reign and lead the academy with honour. 

What separates 100 Yards from most martial arts movies is its style, grace, and technical precision. Elegant isn’t a word often thrown around for this genre, but it’s fitting here. There’s an elegance to everything from the exquisite blocking and camera framing to the lighting and costume design. The stylish cast, looking like GQ models in their stunning costumes, fight in paper boy caps and double-breasted suits. Characters dance in candle-lit ballrooms and fight on cobblestone streets. The gorgeous production design paints a beautiful picture of 1920s China; when Shen and Qi face off in a market near the docks, you can almost taste the salty air. 


Cinematographer Dan Shao goes above and beyond to bring the Xu brothers’ complicated vision to life. His impressive camera work won’t receive top billing, but it’s practically the film’s co-star. Shao delivers the most ambitious action movie camera work since Michael Bay’s Ambulance. The camera behaves like a living, breathing creature. It’s constantly gliding around the actors, finding dynamic ways to frame the film’s stars. It often shifts position within a take to reorient the power dynamics in the scene without the need for a cut. When the action kicks off, Shao knows when to close in on a ferocious hit and when to hang back for a broader perspective. 

100 Yards delivers some of the most expertly crafted action sequences this year. There are plenty of fight sequences over the nearly two-hour runtime, but the action never gets old. The frantically-paced fights are expertly choreographed and always thrilling, with each confrontation bringing something new to the table like a weapon, fighting style, or physical obstacle.

Beyond that, this movie isn’t about a bunch of meatheads knuckling up. Like the best martial arts flicks, the fights also reveal aspects of the characters while moving the story forward thematically. Each character’s choice of technique, their level of aggression or defensiveness, and even the weapons they choose are reflections of their interiority. The fights aren’t just designed to look cool; they’re first and foremost crafted to convey where a character’s heads at that moment in the story. It’s a galaxy brain-level approach to making a martial arts movie.  

100 Yards kicks all kinds of ass. But, most importantly, the Xu brothers also imbue their film with wit, charm, and a sense of humour. The film explores the cultural clash between traditional beliefs and a rapidly changing world, punctuating the melodrama with breathtaking action sequences. The movie has it all: action, romance, themes of honour and betrayal, even a young gang who wield slingshots like they are Wild West gunslingers. And, on top of it all, you have a showstopping performance by Jacky Heung, who spends the movie in ninja Terminator mode, delivering a masterclass in badassery. 


100 Yards screens as part of TIFF 2023, which runs from September 7 to 17. 

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