A reimagining of the Shaw Brothers classic “Death Duel” (1977), “Sword Master” is based on Gu Long’s novel, “The Third Master’s Sword”. The action packed drama was nominated for 5 awards, including Best Action Direction, at the 2017 Hong Kong Film Awards.
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Swordsman and assassin Yen Shishan roams the country defeating lesser swordsmen and lives in the shadow of the only man who can match his skill, The Third Master, Hsieh Shao-Feng. Yen is presented with a contract to kill his nemesis by Mu-Yung Chiu-Ti, Hsieh’s abandoned bride. Upon his arrival at the Supreme Sword Manor, Yen learns that he has arrived 36 days too late to eliminate Hsieh, who has died. Despondent ,Yen leaves the manor and decides to live his best life as a gravedigger in a little village.
In the same village, a nameless man enters a brothel, running up a tab he cannot pay. The Madam forces him to work in order to pay for the services and goods he used and gives him the name Ah-Chi or Useless Chi. Ah-Chi develops a bond with Hsiao Li, the lowest prostitute in the brothel.
Yen Shishan and Ah-Chi’s worlds collide as the Divine Might, a ruthless band of misfits, threaten to take over the martial world. The two master swordsmen must put aside their differences before the Divine Might can eliminate Supreme Sword Manor and the entire martial world.
Derek Yee Tung-sing, the star of “Death Duel”, directed and co-wrote the screenplay with producer Tsui Hark and Chun Tin-nam. In his homage to the film that made him a star, Yee develops the characters more vividly and provides a much easier to follow story by dwindling down the number of characters to focus upon. For a 105 minute film, the story did not feel rushed or forced in any way. Yee paces the film perfectly to allow the development of the characters and provides enough fight scenes to appease the viewer.
In this wonderful wu xia, the relationships between the characters take center stage and are just as important to the development of the story as the swordplay. The actors chosen for each role truly embody their characters and the chemistry the actors share on screen bring their character’s and relationships to life.
In Kenny Lin Gengxin, Derek Yee finds his perfect replacement for the role of Hsieh Shao-Feng/Ah-Chi. Lin is able to command attention as Hsieh Shao-Feng but also blend in with the villagers as Ah-Chi. Peter Ho’s portrayal of the tattooed assassin Yen Shishan is memorable and enjoyable. His performance steals the show as he transforms Yen Shishan from hated assassin to likeable master swordsman, living his best life. There is a hint of Ho’s comedic timing when he discovers Ah-Chi’s true identity. Jiang Yiyan’s porcelain complexion and petite stature belie the ambition, hatred and coldness possessed by her character, Mu-Yung Chiu-Ti. Jiang Yiyan’s performance as the jilted lover is powerful. Respectively, Jiang Mengjie shines as ‘Princess’ Hsiao Li, Ah-Chi’s more suitable mate. Norman Chu Siu-Kung makes a sweet appearance as Hsieh Shao-Feng’s father and leader of the Supreme Sword Manor. His onscreen presence and fighting prowess are as strong as it was in movies from the 1970’s. Originally, Norman Chu Siu-Kung plays a Mu-Yung swordsman in “Death Duel”.
Yuen Bun and Dion Lam Dik-On choreograph excellent fight scenes by matching the skill levels of the actors to movements. Watching the action is like watching a well choreographed ballet. We see this at its best when Mu-Yung Chiu-Ti and Hsieh Shao-Feng parlay in one of the films most emotional fight scenes.
“Sword Master” is a well orchestrated tribute to its predecessor, “Death Duel”. Derek Yee’s involvement shows his love and appreciation of the original film, which was written and directed by Chor Yuen. This beautiful film is worth a watch.