Reviewed by YTSL
Floating around the Internet are many warnings
-- not all that unwarranted, in the opinion of someone who actually did
not heed them! -- against watching "Swordsman III: The East is Red"
before viewing "Swordsman II". On the other hand, there are few recommendations
to view the 1990 film that is the first of this (in)famous trilogy for
its own sake, let alone as a prelude to the 1992 effort that introduced
Asia the Invincible to the (Hong Kong movie viewing) world (and then really
let him/her/it loose and go wild a year later). One reason is that
the Tsui Hark production that immortalized Brigitte Lin as a screen icon
does seem well able to stand on its own. Another is that the original
screen adaptation -- some of the book's readers will prefer "interpretation"
-- of "The Hero of Heroes" novel by Louis Cha (a.k.a. Jin Yong) is seen
as a flawed and inferior piece of work.
That not everyone involved in making SWORDSMAN
(I) was happy with it is readily apparent when it is realized that the
credited director the legendary King Hu -- permanently walked off the
set before the movie's completion. It is also interesting that in
addition to having three official acting directors (Tsui Hark, Ching Siu-Tung
and Raymond Lee), there is widely known to have been one more -- uncredited
director involved in making this fantasy martial drama (Ann Hui has publicly
stated, however, that her participation in this production was "negligible").
Then there is the fact that although their characters do prominently feature
in "Swordsman II", Sam Hui (who here has the main role of Ling of the Wah
Mountain martial arts school), Cecilia Yip (who plays Kiddo, Ling's tomboyish
admirer) and Cheung Man (who portrays the Highlander chief of the Sun and
Moon Sect) get replaced in the much more popular sequel by Jet Li, Michelle
Reis and Rosamund Kwan.
Still, I think it grossly unfair for it to be
as automatically assumed as it seems to have been that SWORDSMAN (I) does
not have all that much good to offer. At the very least, it possesses
quite a few innovative fight sequences (as one would expect of any work
in which Ching Siu-Tung has any part), complex and well utilized sets (at
least one of which bears some internal resemblance to that whose roost
Maggie Cheung ruled in the Raymond Lee-directed "Dragon Inn") plus interestingly
angled camera work courtesy of Peter Pau (undoubtedly one of the most outstanding
of Hong Kong cinematographers). In other words: This 110 minute
length film's impressive visuals alone should exhilarate and spellbind.
The amount and quality of acting talent on view
really should also not be underestimated. Though Sam Hui lacks Jet
Li's physical grace and winning grin, he has an "Everymannishness" and
comic sense that is not without its own charm. While Cecilia Yip
is definitely not as cute as Michelle Reis, her actions can be as much
fun to watch. Then there's Cheung Man, whose cool and powerful interpretation
of Ying makes for an interesting contrast with Rosamund Kwan's softer and
more melancholic one. And this Fennie Yuen fan is appreciative of
her part in this movie -- as well as in "Swordsman II" -- as the impish
but deadly snake (and bee too, here!) fu exponent named Blue Phoenix.
SWORDSMAN (I) additionally benefits from the presence of Jackie Cheung
(who won a Taiwanese Golden Horse acting award for his portrayal of the
right hand man of the major villain of this complex -- some might say convoluted
-- piece) and Yuen Wah (does this talented actor EVER not play a villain?!)
along with guest appearances by the versatile Wu Ma and a wizened looking
Lam Ching Ying (as, among other things, the authors of the very evocative
"Hero of Heroes" theme song).
What this (re)viewer particularly liked about
having watched this first SWORDSMAN though was how so many previously missing
pieces came to be revealed as the basis and connectors of portions and
strands of a hugely enthralling story that was developed and extended in
the two later efforts but really do get their start here. If you
enjoyed "Swordsman II" and ever wondered about any of the following, you
ought to consider this a "must see" film: Where in China is the story
supposed to take place? What period of history was it supposed to
have unfolded? Who had possession of the Sacred Scroll (or Sacred
Volume, as it is called here) before Asia the Invincible? How did
Ling and Kiddo come to be acquainted with Ying, Blue Phoenix and the Highlander
Sun and Moon Sect? How did Kiddo become Ling's travel companion?
How did the Wah Mountain swordsmen (and woman) come to have their distinctive
style of swordplay? Why are they so intent on retiring from the martial
world? What is the greater symbolic meaning behind Ying's act in of handing
over the musical instrument to Ling (in "Swordsman II")?
For those who are entirely unacquainted with any
of the SWORDSMAN films, the above should give you a taste of the character-filled,
meaning-rich and dramatic layered world that is contained within them.
Be aware too that they, perhaps particularly this one, are full of metaphor-laced
pronouncements like "when the waves grow old, the world still turns" (a
line in the "Hero of Heroes" song) and "the river water is interfering
with the well water" (a worry repeatedly uttered aloud by Ling in this
movie)! Be advised that when such actually make (sad yet hopeful)
sense, you (too) will have been thoroughly sucked into yet another amazing
section of Tsui Hark and company's fantastic, often troubled but still
hopeful universe...and assured that IMHO, this particular offering is a
good (as any other) place to start to understand, appreciate, get immersed
in and be touched by it all.
My rating for the film: 8.5
Reviewed by Brian
I have been putting off watching Swordsman
(I) for years now partly because I had heard that it was not all that
great and secondly because the only version I had found for it was the
Tai Seng tape that is dreadfully murky. Media Asia has just released this
on DVD and so I thought it was finally time to watch the first in this
trilogy of which the second and third episodes are two of my all time
favorite films. I think I can now add this one to that same list.
I simply cant understand why this film is held
in comparatively low esteem it is a fabulous film. Though it certainly
misses the incredible charisma of Brigitte Lin and the physical abilities
of Jet Li, it is in some ways a superior film to both of its successors.
The narrative is much clearer, the character development is richer and
in some ways it is much more emotionally effecting. It is really much more
traditional than either II or III a straightforward adventure story of
heroism, passion, loyalty, sacrifice, lust for power and betrayal. It forgoes
much of the glorious bombast of the other films, but it still has plenty
of incredibly imaginative action scenes that I totally enjoyed.
It is also full of unforgettable characters
the few minutes that Wu Ma and Lam Ching Ying are on the screen for are
incredibly touching, the old tramp turned masterful swordsman, the mysteriously
beautiful and stern Cheung Man, Fennie Yuen as Blue Phoenix with deadly
snakes up her sleeves but a tender heart, the wondrous Lau Shun in another
one of his evil Eunuch roles, Kiddos father, Lau Siu Ming, strangely tormented,
Yuen Wah as the relentless killer Zhor and Sam Hui playing the innocent
and playful Ling who learns many cruel lessons of life before the film
I am not sure at what stage King Hu left the production
but his fingerprints are still very much in evidence. Hu loved telling
stories of court intrigue, power struggles and of a few brave individuals
standing against tyranny. His producers in the 60s and 70s had to insist
that he put more action into his films Hu much preferred creating tight
scenes full of tension in which very little happens for long periods of
time but an under current of suspense is just below the surface. This film
has a number of scenes that play out like this. The final twenty minutes
of this film is some of the best film making I have seen for quite a while
and the film overall was a total joy. Hell, just listening to a few renditions
of Hero of Heroes makes this film worth watching.
Lets all sing now for those Heroes:
The seas laugh, lashing on both shores
Carried in the waves, we have only the
here and now
The heavens laugh at the troubled world
Only they know, who is to win and lose
The mountains laugh, the rain is afar
When the waves grow old, the world still
The clear winds laugh, such a feeling of
Bygone camaraderie leaving behind a tinge
The earth laughs, solitude no more
My sentiments laughing still
Lai La Lai Lai Lai
Lai La Lai Lai Lai
My rating for this film: 9.0
Distributed by Mega Star/Media AsiaUniverse
As I said, I have been waiting for this DVD
- and I am so glad I did. The transfer is terrific for the most part -
some little signs of wear - in a few scenes the colors were a bit blanched
- but this was a treat - infinitely better than the Tai Seng tape.
Only a Cantonese language track
Subs - Chinese, English, Japanese, Korean or
It has a great trailer plus ones for Legend
of Wisely, Cannonball Run (!), I Love Maria and Triads: The Inside Story.