Despite my professed love for Hong Kong cinema, sometimes a movie slips through the cracks. For some odd reason, I never got around to watching Tsui Hark’s 2005 wuxia epic, Seven Swords, even though I’ve owned the movie since it was first released on DVD quite a few years ago. I gave the movie a try one weekend when I lived in Hawaii, but I seem to remember being somehow vaguely put off by the look of the film (or, more likely, the running time of 2.5 hours when I had a master’s project to finish) and moved on to other Hong Kong movies that had captured my interest in a way Seven Swords didn’t.
Recently, I had a chance to finally watch Seven Swords, and in retrospect, I wish I hadn’t waited so long, as Hark delivers a mostly entertaining, if overstuffed swordplay epic. It’s not one of Tsui’s best, but it’s a film that’s rousing in small passages, coasting on a handful of intriguing characters and some stellar wuxia iconography that it never quite capitalizes upon.
You can read Kozo’s full critique of the film here, while I share my thoughts below.
Vincent Zhao Wen-Zhou gets bloody in Tsui Hark’s The Blade
If you can get your hands on The Blade (1995), Tsui Hark’s bleak-as-hell re-imagining of the Shaw Brothers classic, The One Armed Swordsman, do yourself a favor and check it out. My pal Kozo at LoveHKFilm.com had this to say about the film, so be sure to check out his review. Watching The Blade all these years later, I have to say I tend to agree with his evaluation, although in retrospect, I really question Tsui Hark’s filmmaking choices at times. To put it simply, this film can be messy as hell at times, a quality that would unfortunately be present in his 2005 return to wuxia pian, Seven Swords.
And really, why do we need to cut away from our hero On (Vincent Zhao) to see what’s happening with the characters played by Moses Chan and Sang Ni? I didn’t care about them, and I think the original Shaw Bros film handled those characters (or at least their equivalents, anyway) in a much better fashion. Really, the point the film is trying to put forth about “Living La Vida Jiang Hu” amounting to nothing more than largely empty, meaningless, and totally non-heroic existence was already made quite well in the first act when the heroic monk got totally f-ed up and nobody cared. It ain’t all fun and games in The Blade. It’s a harsh world, baby. Harsh. For those looking for a story with happy-go-lucky swordsmen, do go elsewhere.
Jet Li returns to wuxia pian in Flying Swords of Dragon Gate
Said to be a reworking of King Hu’s Dragon Gate Inn (1966) and New Dragon Gate Inn (1992, aka Dragon Inn), Tsui Hark’s Flying Swords of Dragon Gate reunites the director with his Once Upon a Time in Chinaleading man, Jet Li. Budgeted at a reported $35 million USD, the film will be the first 3-D wuxia film. Chuck Comiskey, who served as a visual effects supervisor for James Cameron’s Avatar, has been hired as the 3-D director in charge of managing special effects. (more…)
A Better Tomorrow III: Love and Death in Saigon isn’t a bad film, but as a true prequel to the first two ABT films, I have to admit it’s a little disappointing. Sure, the “origin story” explaining Mark’s penchant for trenchcoats, sunglasses, and explosive gunplay is pretty interesting, considering that Tsui Hark locates these aspects of the character in an unexpected romantic context. And yeah, Chow Yun-Fat, Anita Mui, and Tony Leung Ka-Fei deliver fine performances. Heck, there’s even some truly poignant moments between Mark (Chow) and Kit (Mui), but overall, the movie seems kind of…well…pointless.
Maggie Cheung has never been as mischievous nor as sensuous as she is playing the title role in Tsui Hark’s 1993 film, Green Snake. Adapted from Lilian Lee’s novel, Green Snake retells the story of Madam White Snake from the perspective of her younger sibling, Qingqing (Maggie Cheung). The main storyline involves two snake spirits — Qingqing and her older sister, Madame White Snake herself, Bai Suzhen (Joey Wong) — who assume human forms to experience the pleasures of the human world. Along the way, Bai Suzhen falls for a scholar (Wu Xing-Guo), and their inter-species love affair sparks the ire of repressed Buddhist monk (Zhao Wen-Zhou). Of course, a showdown proves inevitable.
Today’s retro review is one my favorite Hong Kong films of all-time — the Tsui Hark-produced, Ching Siu-Tung-directed Swordsman II (1992). Although I’m quite fond of the first film, this winning sequel improves on its predecessor considerably, largely due to a compelling story, great action, and the (mostly) all-new cast. The film stars my favorite actor of the 1990s, Jet Li (replacing Sam Hui), Rosamund Kwan (replacing Cheung Man), and Michelle Reis(replacing Cecillia Yip). By far the biggest addition to the cast is the singular Brigitte Lin Ching-Hsia, who takes on the challenging role of Asia the Invincible, a character who is quite possibly the most memorable villain of 1990s Hong Kong cinema — spawning a sequel of “his” own and a handful of parodies, too.
For me, this is a movie of introductions. Not only was Swordsman II the very first wuxia film I ever saw, but it was also the first film I’d ever seen to feature a transgendered character. What stands out now nearly twenty years(!) later is the portrayal of Asia, who while remaining a “villain” in the traditional sense is also very human and sympathetic. He/she also happens to possess superhuman powers, badass martial arts skills, and Brigitte Lin’s striking good looks — all qualities that have helped insure the character’s cinematic immortality for some time now.
Swordsman II was an early review of mine for LoveHKFilm.com; whatever I lacked in skill or style, I hopefully made up with humor and enthusiasm. Funnily enough, Swordsman II was the first review I ever wrote to get quoted on a DVD; in this case, Optimum Asia’s UK DVD. At the very least, my parents seemed to get a kick out of it.
Anyway, for Hong Kong cinema fans, this is another must-see flick.
To increase the daily content for this blog, I’ve decided to start digging back into the archive and occasionally spotlighting one of the 300+ reviews I’ve written for the site thus far. Some of the movies that will be featured in “Retro Review” will be golden oldies, others could be classified as unappreciated gems, and still others will likely rank as unadulterated crap.
This first installment of Retro Review will be spotlighting — what else? — the very first review I ever wrote for LoveHKFilm.com — the Tsui Hark-produced 1990 film, Swordsman. When Kozo was looking for new reviewers way back in 2002, I contacted him expressing interest, and this review was my “try-out” for the site. Apparently, I passed the audition. Whatever its merits, in this early review, you can read not only my unbridled enthusiasm for Hong Kong cinema, but my initial interest in packing in as much detail and trivia as humanly possible.