TIFF movie review: '100 Yards' showcases thrilling fighters, clever story

Andy On (L) and Jacky Heung battle in "100 Yards." Photo courtesy of Well Go
1 of 2 | Andy On (L) and Jacky Heung battle in "100 Yards." Photo courtesy of Well Go

LOS ANGELES, Sept. 12 (UPI) -- Martial arts movies can excel with only slight variations on the formula, depending on the unique artists involved. 100 Yards, which screened at the Toronto International Film Festival, showcases Jacky Heung and Andy On in a tale as old as time - with some twists.

Opening text reads that the Tianjin Kung Fu school deals with all matters within 100 yards of its gates. In 1920, a transition provokes conflict within those 100 yards.


A dying master (Guo Long) orders his student Qi Quan (On) to duel the master's son, An (Heung). When Qi wins, the master gives him control over the Tianjin school.

An is ready to give up martial arts entirely and take a job at the bank, but even the White bankers bait An into a fight. The martial arts circle of Tianjin decide that An and Qi will have another duel to determine who will run the school.


This is a good take on the age-old martial arts duel. Usually a protagonist is humiliated in a fight and must train with a new master to learn how to defeat the villain.

If there's been another martial arts movie where the protagonist tries to go work in a bank instead, it's rare. An tried to go straight, but the martial arts world just wouldn't let him.

The martial arts circle suggests an organized crime aspect, only they're just teaching martial arts, not shaking down shopkeepers for protection. Usually, martial arts schools battle each other over pride, but this has more structure.

If An wins, he gets his father's school. If Qi wins, he gets the school away from the martial arts circle's control.

But Qi foreshadows his own demise, like the guys who killed John Wick's dog. If he'd just let it go, An would've minded his own business and Qi could've run the school.

Forced into the duel, An investigates legendary styles like Fourth Fist Fight Form and Short Sabres Form he hopes can give him an edge against Qi. This threatens Qi and he attacks potential teacher and love interest Gui Ying (Tang Shiyi).

Directors Xu Haofeng and Xu Junfeng and cinematographer Dan Shao film the fights dynamically. Gui Ying's fight moves from room to room and the camera moves with the choreography to highlight moves and reveal some blows with a change in perspective.


Likewise, the camera finds every corner of that 100 yards of space for An's battles against Qi and his other students. An makes quick, stylish work of his opponents.

The fights incorporate rare and unique weapons. If they're not entirely unique to this film, they're certainly not the usual swords and poles.

The duel occurs an hour into the film and, of course, that doesn't solve the drama. The loser doesn't just accept defeat, even if the circle offers a compromise.

That speaks to the absurdity of a final fight deciding anything once and for all. It's a staple of the genre, but what's to make the loser accept defeat? He'll just try again.

In the finale, An ends up taking on a series of individual fighters in different styles with different weapons. An thinks outside the box with his use of some traditional weapons, too.

If one is looking for martial arts battles, 100 Yards is a fine addition to the cinematic history of the genre. It also provides a bit more embellishment on the world of dueling schools and fighters.


Fred Topel, who attended film school at Ithaca College, is a UPI entertainment writer based in Los Angeles. He has been a professional film critic since 1999, a Rotten Tomatoes critic since 2001, and a member of the Television Critics Association since 2012 and the Critics Choice Association since 2023. Read more of his work in Entertainment.

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