Chinese Reviews Reviews

Film Review: Swordmaster (2016) by Derek Yee

If “” has the feel of an old Shaw Brothers movie then that is not surprising given it's a remake of “Death Duel” from that studio and directed by the original movie star .

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Yen Shisan () seeks out the Third Master Hsieh Shau-Feng only to arrive too late and find he passed away some days prior. After being diagnosed with an incurable illness, he decides to devote his remaining days redeeming himself for an evil past. At a brothel, a drunken Ah-chi (Lin Gengxin) becomes a servant after having no money to pay for his consumption. Hsiao Li (Jiang Mengjie), a prostitute there, is saved by Ah-chi and a mutual attraction occurs but Ah-chi leaves when he is about to be promoted to bouncer. These two story arcs will eventually collide as pasts are revealed and the truth will lead to conflict.

There is an artificialness to the CGI imagery that rather than distract from the story, actually embellishes it. In this sense, we are almost taken back to the Shaw Brothers era where the studio sets would create a distinctive visual feel. The varied weaponry and elaborate costume design of the villains only add to this sense.

At the heart of the movie though, is a classic tale of wu-xia. The characters are troubled individuals seeking to either conquer or escape the martial world and the futility of both that is often found in the works of Gu Long that this movie is drawn from. Yen Shisan is a surprisingly well-drawn character. Visually distinctive, black clothed, with facial tattoos and carrying his own tombstone behind him and sleeping in a coffin, this tragic character seeking redemption for past sins counterpoints Ah Chi's. Both have similar pasts despite appearances that would normally signpost good/bad in a more simplistic narrative. The whole theme of virtually all the characters is that they are not what they appear on the surface.

Derek Yee as a director has created his best work in movies centred around strong characterization. “Viva Erotica” and “Full Throttle” to name but two. This helps elevate the movie as the action never loses sight of the story behind it. Performances are all exemplary with Peter Ho a stand out as the doomed Yen Shisan.

The CGI enhanced wirework is fluid and clear and the look of the film is clearly influenced by producer Tsui Hark but without descending into incoherence as some similar wordplay movies have done in recent past.

Fans of this genre will know the plot devices and outcome long before the end but all good stories are about the journey and this one adds more interesting character arcs to the standard cliches.

The end result is one of those satisfying rarities in cinema. A remake that adds to the original and improves on it. Highly recomended.

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