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Swordsman II
   |     review    |     notes     |     awards     |     poem     |     availability     |     also see      |   
"Are you interrupting my needlepoint?"

Man or woman? Brigitte Lin is Asia the Invincible in Swordsman II
Chinese: 笑傲江湖 II :東方不敗
Year: 1992
Director: Ching Siu-Tung  
Producer: Tsui Hark
Action: Ching Siu-Tung, Yuen Tak, Ma Yuk-Sing, Yuen Bun, Cheung Yiu-Sing
Cast: Brigitte Lin Ching-Hsia, Jet Li Lian-Jie, Rosamund Kwan Chi-Lam, Michelle Reis, Fennie Yuen Kit-Ying, Candace Yu On-On, Yen Shi-Kwan (Yang Yee-Kwan), Waise Lee Chi-Hung, Chin Kar-Lok, Lau Shun
The Skinny: The second part of an epic trilogy of films that would help revitalize the sagging wuxia genre, as well as inspire loads of imitators. HK superstars Jet Li and Brigitte Lin appear in career-solidifying roles. A must-see of the genre.
 
Review by
Calvin
McMillin:

What is a hero? That is one of the many questions posed in the Tsui Hark-produced film Swordsman II, a free adaptation of the Jin Yong (Louis Cha) novel Xiao Ao Jiang Hu. With Ching Siu-Tung at the helm, Swordsman II avoids the dangers of sequel-itis. In comparison to the first film, it's far more focused and emerges as the superior movie in the series. And even more intriguing, it shows a willingness go to places that a traditional popcorn film wouldn't even dare.

Set in the Ming Dynasty, Swordsman II continues the tale of carefree Ling Wu-Chung (Jet Li) and his tomboy sidekick Kiddo (Michelle Reis). Disheartened by their master's betrayal in the first film, the two comrades have decided to retire from the martial arts world along with their Wah Mountain brothers. With the world of violence and conflict a distant memory, Ling can focus on something more important - women. Just as in the first film, young Kiddo has a crush on Ling, and tries desperately to shed her tomboy image, but to no avail.

Complicating matters is the fact that Ling has feelings for Highlander Ying (Rosamund Kwan) whom he and his brothers have agreed to meet one last time before retirement. Ying's father Wu is the rightful leader of the Sun Moon Sect, but has been double-crossed and imprisoned by the mysterious and powerful Asia the Invincible (Brigitte Lin) - the possessor of the much-desired Sacred Scroll. And if Ling's girl troubles weren't enough, he meets the elegant Asia and ends up falling for her!

However, Ling has an even bigger problem, and it has nothing to do with respecting the feelings of the other two gals. Asia the Invincible? She's a he! Yep, it turns out that the Sacred Scroll that everybody and their eunuch wanted to get their grubby little paws on in the first flick has one major drawback: to achieve ultimate supernatural power, one must castrate himself. Yikes.

Naively, swordsman Ling embarks on a relationship with the villain, not knowing Asia's true identity (Asia looks like Brigitte Lin, so who can blame him?). While our hero is occupied elswhere, Asia and his AZN pride posse attack and brutally slaughter the Wah mountain swordsmen. Vowing to avenge his fallen comrades, Ling leads a rag-tag group in an assault on Asia's stronghold on Blackwood Cliff. At the film's climax, the secret of Asia the Invincible is revealed…but with surprising results.

Simply put, this is a great movie. On a basic level, Swordsman II has a great plot with all sorts of fantastic swordplay and swell special effects. In addition, there are a number of fine performances from leading HK actors. Jet Li is superb as Ling, a man who laughs, drinks, and beds a woman, a role that is a far cry from the stoic Wong Fei-Hung. As for the women, Michelle Reis is the sexiest tomboy this side of Chungking Express's Faye Wong and Brigitte Lin was so good in this film, that besides starring in the sequel The East is Red, she ended up playing variations on her Asia role in a few other movies.

As I mentioned earlier, one of the most fascinating aspects of the film is its willingness to explore taboo subjects. Sexuality and morality are definitely the big issues here. In the film, Ling clearly has romantic feelings for Asia, even after finding out his/her dark secret. Jet Li in love with a guy? That's pretty bold. And the resulting questioning of morality is interesting. What is Good? What is Evil? If evil Asia is capable of love is he/she still Evil? Many compelling questions are tossed around in this film, which could have been a simple Jet Li crowd pleaser in a lesser director's hands.

Also, the sequel continues the deconstruction of the hero archetype. As one character wonders, "May I ask, who is the Hero of Heroes?" The "unjustly" imprisoned Wu isn't, since he turns out to be a ruthless, bloodthirsty man, a monster far worse than Asia the Invincible. What about the villain? From Asia's point of view, his desire to establish Sun Moon Sect as the dominant clan and overthrow the empire are borne out of his love for his people and his country. Despite all his savagery, Asia truly believes he'll be remembered as a hero, not a perverted arch villain.

Even Ling Wu-Chung, a man caught in the middle, cannot completely fulfill the role of the fabled Hero of Heroes. Though one can sympathize with Ling's wish for a life of seclusion on Ox Mountain, the film suggests that turning our backs on the conflicts of the world is not the answer, for they will eventually catch up with us. As Wu says in a rare moment of lucidity, "Wherever there are people, there is conflict."

Truly great sequels are hard to find, especially in Hong Kong, where cranking out cheapie follow-ups has become a common practice. But Swordsman II is a polished piece of work, easily surpassing the achievements of its predecessor. Unlike most popcorn flicks, Swordsman II will resonate with the audience long after its over. (Calvin McMillin 2002)

 
Notes:

• "We tried something new in every action scene, like Brigitte Lin's zhang feng (palm power). In other films zhang feng causes only an explosion but I tried disintegrating an entire person." - Ching Siu-Tung
At first, Tsui Hark wanted a man to play the transsexual Asia the Invincible, but later decided to cast Brigitte Lin, a move which, according to Hark, "virtually everyone, including the author (Louis Cha), was vehemently against."
The sequel grossed more than double the first film's earnings.
Swordsman II will be reissued in the United States as Legend of the Swordsman, making it at least the fifth HK movie to have the word "legend" in its American DVD release (Legend of The Drunken Master, Jet Li's The Legend 1 & 2, and Legend of the Red Dragon).
Awards:

12th Annual Hong Kong Film Awards
Winner - Best Costume and Makeup Design (William Cheung Suk-Ping, Yu Ka-On)
Nomination - Best Actress (Brigitte Lin Ching-Hsia)
Nomination - Best Editing (Marco Mak Chi-Sin)
Nomination - Best Art Direction (Leung Wah-Sang, Chung Yi-Fung)
Nomination - Best Action Design (Ching Siu-Tung, Yuen Tak, Ma Yuk-Sing, Cheung Yiu-Sing)
Nomination - Best Original Score (Richard Yuen)
Nomination - Best Original Song ("Jek Gei Gam Woo Siu", performed by James Wong Jim)
Fantafestival Awards (1993)
Best Special Effects
Poem:

What a troubled world!
Life crushes and confuses our spirits.
Seeking to calm, men seize power,
But I find my solace in a jug of wine.
(recited by Ling and Asia at different times in the film)
Availability:

DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 0 NTSC
Mei Ah Laser
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Cantonese and Mandarin Language Tracks
Dolby Digital 5.1 / DTS 5.1
Removable English, Chinese, Japanese Subtitles
Also see: Swordsman (1990)
Swordsman III: East is Red (1993)
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image courtesy of Mei Ah Laser Disc Co., Ltd.

   
   
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