The narratives commonly known as wuxia stories in Chinese literature are one of the oldest surviving literary traditions, with their origins dating back to 300 BC. A typical wuxia story consists of a protagonist from humble origins who climbs up the social ladder through his own self-earned skills or those bestowed upon him, displays great feats of martial arts, either practical or mystical or both, and follows the ways of Chinese Xia traditions—a code of righteousness comparable to the Bushido code of Japanese Samurai or the chivalry of European Knights. Wuxia stories often range from the ancient to the medieval era and consist of fictional, quasi-historical characters with a limited amount of Buddhist and supernatural elements, which differs from the more over-the-top treatment of religion and mythology in Xianxia stories, which are essentially complete fantasies.
The wuxia stories have been adapted to different media forms in both live-action and live performance for more than a century now and have gained quite a cult following worldwide. The latest entry of the genre, “Sakra,” released during Chinese New Year and directed by legendary martial artist Donnie Yen, is an adaptation of the wuxia classic “Demi-Gods and Semi-Devils.” As a genre movie, “Sakra” affirms a strong footing with picturesque cinematography, an impeccable display of martial art choreography, and uplifting scores. “Sakra” adapts the initial portion of a very complex and expansive narrative and hints at a larger universe to be built on the foundation provided by it.
A Tumultuous Beginning
Before the narrative of “Sakra” unfolds, we are introduced to a foreword, which provides us with the background context of the plotline. The following events take place during the 11th century AD, a period of Chinese history rife with warfare. The setting is the central plains of the Northern Song dynasty, which are being repeatedly invaded by the nomadic Khitan warriors who represent the rival Liao dynasty. Using this ruckus as an opportunity, the remnants of the ancient Yan kingdom are trying to gather forces to wrest back control. People around the country are getting caught up in the conflict, and their contrasting emotions and motives are binding them to an inescapable fate.
The Legend Of Qiao Feng
“Sakra” begins as, one morning, a Han farmer couple discovers a baby boy being delivered to their doorstep. The boy, named Qiao Feng, grows up in the love and care of the kindly couple like their own child and joins the Wulin under the tutelage of the elder Shaolin monk, Xuanku. As he ages up, Qiao Feng shows great mastery in martial arts skills, becomes well-known for his honorable virtues, and gets accepted into the biggest sect in the country—the beggar gang. Through the perfect completion of various missions, rescuing the leaders and members of the gang numerous times, and strengthening the ranks with his courage and valor, Qiao becomes a master of the beggar gang in his adulthood. By the time the major events of “Sakra” take place, Qiao is held in high esteem by both his beggar gang and the Wulin.
The scene shifts to an eatery, where a Shaolin monk named Jiu Mozhi and his associates make a stop to have breakfast and place a carriage inside the compound that is holding a cage with something entrapped inside, obscured by the tarp put over it. Qiao Feng, also present at the eatery, uncovers the tarp, which reveals the corrupted monk was holding Duan Yu, prince of Dali province, inside it and was carrying him to the tomb of Murong Bo, the deceased chief of the Murong family, to offer as a sacrifice. A fight ensues between Qiao and Jiu and his disciples, which results in the victory of Qiao, who uses his mastery of the Eighteen Subduing Dragon Palm technique.
Falling From Grace
Qiao returns to the congregation of the beggar gang in the forest, where other masters of the gang and even the four chief elders have appeared for some unknown reason. Qiao is informed by them that the vice-master Ma has been murdered, and they consider Qiao to be a suspect. As for the evidence, the group calls forth the wife of the deceased member, Kang Min, who presents a letter that was in possession of vice-master Ma and claims Qiao is an outsider by birth and that his parents were killed by the Song people. The letter warns that even though Qiao has proved his mettle among the beggar gang time and again, if he knows about the truth of his origin, he will end the gang as well as the Wulin of the central plains. To corroborate the claims of the letter, Elder Xu, the senior most chief of the gang, also mentions that three decades ago, led by a ‘leading big brother’, Song soldiers traveled to Yanmen Pass to ambush Khitan soldiers, but ended up killing an unfortunate Khitan couple instead, with their only child left alive. Master Wang of the beggar gang was one of the Song soldiers present during the conflict, who later witnessed the child, Qiao Feng, grow and join the ranks of the beggars, gaining unprecedented success. Wang decided to relinquish his position as master to Qiao when the letter arrived from the mysterious ‘leading big brother.’ Before his death, Master Wang entrusted the letter to Vice Master Ma.
Disgraced in front of his comrades for a crime he didn’t commit, Qiao relinquishes his position as a master, vows to uncover the truth one day, and leaves. From a vantage point in the distance, the current leader of the Murong family, Murong Fu, shows the whole ordeal to his female servants, among whom a seemingly wiser A-Zhu is assigned to retrieve something from the Shaolin temple.
A Bleeding Heart
Qiao returns to his adoptive parents’ home, only to discover them murdered by some unknown assailant(s). When a couple of villagers spot him with their bodies, having learned about the beggar gang situation, they mistakenly consider Qiao to be the murderer. Qiao flees with anguish and resentment in his heart. Later, Qiao goes to the Shaolin temple to meet his master Xuanku to learn about his birth heritage and finds him to be slain too. In a similar fashion, Qiao finds himself getting incriminated for his death as well and ends up on the run from the Shaolin monks.
Meanwhile, A Zhu enters the Shaolin temple by disguising herself as a monk, using her illusions and stealing the sacred scripture of the temple. She alerts the rest of the monks to Qiao’s presence; later, Qiao identifies her as an outsider and catches her. However, the Shaolin monks surround them and accuse Qiao of killing his parents and the master as well as stealing the sacred scriptures. Qiao returns the scriptures recovered from a disguised Zhu and denies the allegation. A Shaolin master named Xuan Nan hits the duo with his powerful Vajra palm technique, and even though Qiao is able to deflect a major portion of its destructive force, it wounds Zhu badly. Qiao escapes the temple and, to save A Zhu from a disastrous fate, takes her with him.
Qiao tends to Zhu by providing her with food and shelter and temporarily healing her using his mystical qi abilities. Upon questioning, A Zhu confesses that she was stealing the sacred scriptures at the command of her master, Lord Murong Fu, who promised to let her know of her true parentage in return. Zhu thanks Qiao and assures him, saying that, despite the conspiracies, she believes him to be a good person who didn’t do any of the things he’s been accused of. Qiao, grateful at the gesture, promises to reunite A Zhu with her parents. The two grow close as they share their pasts with each other and the common grief of not knowing their true origins. However, seeing A Zhu’s condition worsen, Qiao realizes that in order to save her, he will need the aid of the divine doctor Xue and sets off to locate him.
A One-Man Army
In the JuXian manor, warriors of different sects of the central plains, beggar gang members and leaders, Shaolin monks, and their associates have gathered for a grand feast, with their main objective being killing Qiao Feng and saving the Wulin from the impending evil of his presence. The attendees are flabbergasted to see Qiao Feng himself arriving at the front door and asking for the assistance of divine doctor Xue. After checking on A Zhu’s condition, Xue proclaims the only reason she is still surviving is because of Qiao’s qi healing and treatment, and even though he can treat her back to normalcy and a doctor should be impartial, he is not willing to assist a traitor like Qiao ever again. To make matters worse, Elder Bai of the beggar gang (who read the letter of ‘leading big brother’) and Kang Min are hell-bent on ending Qiao’s life.
Desperate to save A Zhu’s life, Qiao makes a bargain and offers his life in exchange for A Zhu’s. After performing a severance ceremony of wine drinking, where Qiao breaks off his connection with his sect, his close associates, and the Wulin as a whole, his battle with the combined might of the attendees ensues. Even though Qiao doesn’t kill any Song people, he makes them remember that the reverence he accumulated was not for nothing. However, even though he beats almost all the hundred warriors present there, doctor Xue backstabs him using a mystical artifact that temporarily strips off his qi powers, and using the opportunity, Elder Bai delivers a lethal blow to Qiao as well. A Zhu laments seeing Qiao in a helpless situation and asks him to leave, but Qiao isn’t going to leave the person who trusted him most, and even in the face of death, he will honor his word. A severely injured Qiao prepares for a last stand and gets mangled by the relentless attacks of the warriors. It seems his death is imminent when a mysterious cloaked figure brings the manor’s roof crashing down on the attackers, killing a number of them instantly, and flees, taking Qiao with him. Kang Min attempts to kill A Zhu, but Doctor Xue stops her, saying it’d be wise to treat the girl back to normalcy, and Qiao will definitely return looking for her.
Reunion And Recognition
The mysterious cloaked figure takes Qiao into his cave hideout and treats him using his qi energy. After being healed, a rejuvenated Qiao gains consciousness and thanks his rescuer. The cloaked figure engages in a conversation with Qiao about how the country in conflict reflects the condition of the people residing in it and repeats the forewords that were shown at the beginning. He also chastises Qiao for sacrificing his life for a Song woman, despite being Khitan by origin. Qiao remarks that irrespective of his origin, he knows in his heart that his biological parents weren’t heartless persons, and they must have sought the path of righteousness. The cloaked figure laughs and remarks that, indeed, Qiao’s biological father, Xiao Yuanshan, was such a man. Qiao gets shocked at the mention of the name of his biological father and asks the figure about his identity and how he learned about his parentage. The cloaked figure flees after remarking that instead of asking for his identity, Qiao should focus on his own self-discovery.
Meanwhile, A Zhu recovers completely from the wound trauma with the help of Doctor Xue and tries to escape using a disguise. Xue attempts to kill her, but A Zhu outmaneuvers him and stabs him in the process. She escapes after setting Xue’s apothecary on fire.
At the Murong residence, Murong Fu prepares to uphold his father’s wish by restoring their ancestral Yan Empire back to its former glory and prepares to collide with Qiao Feng. After learning about A Zhu’s survival and escape, Murong Fu anticipates Qiao’s arrival in Murong Province and locates him accordingly. Initially, Fu offers a proposal to Qiao to join hands against the Song dynasty, which the latter refuses. Fu takes him to the nearby border location and shows him the atrocities the Khitan people are subjected to at the hands of Song soldiers, with even elders and children dying after getting brutally tortured. An enraged Qiao kills the Song soldiers and saves the remaining Khitan people, then gets into a serious moral crisis afterward. Seeing himself at odds with his oaths of never taking the lives of the Song people, Qiao questions his judgment and the people’s perception. He reaches the Yanmen pass, where inscriptions written on the stones in the Khitan language confirm the location of the unfortunate ambush that took the lives of Qiao’s parents. An escaped A Zhu reaches the same place, and an emotional reunion ensues, where both Qiao and A Zhu profess their feelings for each other. Qiao professes that he will no longer hide his Khitan identity in shame, and after knowing his true origins and A Zhu’s parentage, he would like to settle in the countryside with her, leading a peaceful life as a cattle herder. Zhu expresses her desire to spend her life with Qiao as well.
A Fatal Mistake
Zhu uses Kang Min’s disguise to extract information regarding the entire fiasco. It is revealed that Elder Bai and Kang Min, who were having an affair, killed Vice-Master Ma under the order of the ‘leading big brother’ or leader and put the blame on Qiao. Bai also remarks that the leader is, in fact, Duan Zhengchun, the king of the Dali kingdom, who just so happens to be visiting the nearby Mirror Lake at the given moment. Qiao and A Zhu set off to confront Duan Zhengchun, and viewers get to know that they were deliberately misinformed at the command of Kang Min, who anticipated such an occurrence beforehand.
At Mirror Lake, Zhengchun visits one of his numerous mistresses, Ruan Xingzhu, with whom he has twin daughters. Ruan reared up A Zi to be a fierce warrior like herself and gave up the other twin to someone else in order to show spite against Zhengchun. After A Zhu and Qiao meet with Duan Zhengchun, A Zhu realizes that she is the abandoned twin sister of A Zi and fears that both of them will have to go through the trauma of their father’s death if Qiao acts on his vengeful instincts. A Zhu disguises herself as Zhengchun; as planned earlier, Qiao sets out to kill Zhengchun but instead delivers a fatal blow to a disguised A Zhu. A remorseful, aggrieved Qiao laments as A Zhu breathes her last in his arms, asking not to blame himself and sharing the truth about her parentage. Qiao takes her lifeless self to her parents, and after learning everything, Zhengchun remarks that he has never been to Yanmen Pass and that he is not the leader he is seeking.
‘Sakra’ Ending Explained – Did Qiao Feng Find His True Parentage?
An enraged Qiao realizes that he has been manipulated by Elder Bai and Kang Min to attack Zhengchun and rushes back to confront them. Bai reveals that it was, in fact, Murong Fu who orchestrated the plan to begin a conflict between the Song and Dali dynasties, which would have given him an opening to restore the Yan empire. A Zi arrives to assist Qiao and drags out Kang Min. However, at least Kang Min’s plight can be sympathized with, as by her own account, she had been used by vice-master Ma and other lecherous members of the beggar gang from a young age, and this was her way of getting back at the people who wronged her by making the gang weaker in the absence of Qiao. Murong Fu joins the conflict along with his troops and instantly kills Bai and Kang Min. A vicious battle ensues between Fu and Qiao, and the latter discovers that Fu has also slain the other Elders of the beggar gang as a display of power. Qiao launches his Dragon Palm technique, which is countered and reflected back by the Murong technique of ‘Star Shifting.’ Qiao reconnected with a memory of his childhood self when he was seeking enlightenment in Buddhism from his master, which helped him regain his strength and destroy Murong Fu.
Qiao Feng rides away to the unknown, and sometime later, it is shown that he is living the idyllic life in a valley, raising and herding cattle, just like he promised to A Zhu. A memory of an unlived lifetime plays in the background, where A Zhu is seen to be herding cattle with Qiao. Later, Qiao joins a nomadic tribe, possibly Khitan, and A Zi follows suit. Qiao is no longer pestered by the urge to discover his parentage now that he has left his past behind for good.
In the ending sequence, we see Murong Bo, the former monarch of the Murong family, who was thought to be deceased, revive his son Murong Fu and vow to prepare for the restoration of the Yan dynasty. At Yanmen Pass, the previously mentioned cloaked figure appears to observe the Khitan inscriptions, and a flashback sequence plays where Qiao Feng’s parents are ambushed by the leader’s assassins, which cost Qiao’s mother her life. It turns out that the cloaked figure is Xiao Yuanshan, Qiao’s birth father, who survived the attacks, left Qiao Feng at the mercy of the Song people, and also killed his adoptive parents and his master Xuanku. Murong Bo appears in the scene as well, and “Sakra” ends as the duo exchanges glances. As the ending shows, Qiao’s entire life was turned upside down by the actions of his birth father, which also implies that, in the future, whenever he gets to know about his true parentage, it will be far from the closure that he hoped to attain.
“Sakra” is a 2023 fantasy action film directed by Donnie Yen.