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Seven SwordsMovie Review
by Bertha Chin
Genre: Action/Martial Arts
Acclaimed director Tsui Hark returns with another thrilling martial arts masterpiece reminiscent of his earlier works from the 1980s and early 1990s. In this endeavour, Tsui adapts the novel, “Seven Swordsmen from Mount Heaven”, written by a famous wuxia (martial arts) novelist, Liang Yu Sheng, and employs the acting talents of pop stars Leon Lai and Charlie Yeung, action stars and veteran martial arts choreographers Donnie Yen and Lau Kar Leung, as well as an array of upcoming young stars from China, Taiwan, and Korea. Filmed entirely in Xinjiang, north-western China, the film features some breathtaking scenery as the seven heroic swordsmen rush to defend the innocent and defeat their foes. Seven Swords features classic Tsui Hark action sequences that, unlike recent so-called martial arts offerings from the likes of Ang Lee and Zhang Yimou, do not hold back on the gore or the dust!
The story is set in the 1600s, with the establishment of the Ching Dynasty by the Manchurians. The new government, weary of pro-nationalist revolts by the people, imposes a ban of all martial arts practices across the land. The ban is further executed by a military official from the previous dynasty, Fire Wind (Sun Honglei), who uses the opportunity to make a fortune for himself from the current government by raiding villages and killing every man, woman, and child he can get his hands on. On the final frontier of the northwest lies Martial Village, upon which Fire Wind sets his sights to extort even more money from the government.
Fu Qingzhu (Lau Kar Leung), Fire Wind’s colleague from the previous dynasty, has been trying to stop the slaughter of the innocent. When he gets rescued by Wu Yuanyin (Charlie Yeung), he convinces Wu and her fellow villager, Han Zhibang (Lu Yi), to travel with him to the mystical Mount Heaven to seek the help of hermit Master Shadow Glow (Ma Jingwu), who is also a master of swords. Shadow Glow sends his disciples: Chu Zhaonan (Donnie Yen), Yang Yunchong (Leon Lai), Mulang (Duncan Chow), and Xin Longzi (Tai Li Wu)—all who had rejected life among society for their own reasons—equipped with swords that cater to their individual talents and strengths, to Martial Village to help save the villagers from the clutches of Fire Wind and the Ching dynasty.
At 153 minutes long and with seven major characters, each with their own back story, the film sometimes feel rushed. As it is also a Tsui Hark film, emphasis seems to be given to the action sequences rather than character development—which is a shame, as it is the characters, particularly those of Yang Yunchong and Chu Zhaonan, that are most compelling about the film. Perhaps the rumoured 4-hour long version that Tsui Hark first edited would have made the story better, allowing each character to be more fleshed out, as the swords they were bequeathed clearly implies a strong connection between the character of the sword and the background of the swordsmen. However, for fans of the genre, this is clearly a return to form. The close-up camera work in the action sequences, the “wire-fu”, and even right down to the convoluted storylines are classic Tsui, which is truly a superior alternative to the sanitized, non-bloody versions of the martial arts genre coming from directors like Ang Lee and Zhang Yimou.
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