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Ʀ (1990)

Reviewed by: pjshimmer
Date: 10/20/2005

In my eyes, This is one of the most profoundly groundbreaking movies in HK cinema history. The most impressive part is that King Hu, whose career peaked in the late 60s, is the genius responsible for this 90s new wave pioneer.

This may very well be the precursor to the post 1990 wuxia/wire/flying extravagenzas that followed. You name it: Butterfly Sword, Magic Crane, Royal Tramp, Blade of Fury, and of course the Swordsman sequels--they all share more stylistic similarities with this movie than any movie before (that I've seen). Only King Hu could have come out with yet another pioneer 20+ years after Dragon Gate Inn and A Touch of Zen. He is truly one of martial arts' biggest influences. For the record, I am not necessarily a fan of King Hu, and I never liked this movie, but the more I see it, the more I appreciate its foundational influence on the genre.

I will mention the main problem that distracted me: like most HK movies, this one is fast paced. It's not confident enough like its successor to use the furious pace as a competitive advantage; in the end it doesn't quite capture the moment, and we do not become one with the characters.


Reviewed by: mrblue
Date: 09/17/2005

Because I really have no other way to descirbe this movie, I'm going to use the old cliche of "too many directors spoiling the broth" here. King Hu (the film's original director) got understandably mad at the lack of a script and left the production, leaving the action directors and producers to take over. Perhaps the film-makers were too ambitious; the movie is an adaptation of a 2,000 page novel and they try to squeeze a lot of characters into the mix. The basic story is pretty simple -- various groups are going after a scroll which grants the holder near-unlimited power -- but the movie quickly becomes a convoluted mess as we must try to learn every (and I mean every) character's backstory and motivation. Trying to keep tabs of who's who and what's what in Swordsman is a losing battle.

Still, I did find myself becoming interested in some of the characters and their fates, and the action is top-notch if you enjoy wire-fu. Even though Swordsman is a train wreck of a movie, and nowhere near the level of its' sequels, it's a pretty fun ride.

[review from www.hkfilm.net]

Reviewed by: MrBooth
Date: 07/14/2005
Summary: A seminal film, unfairly overshadowed by its sequel

Poor King Hu. By rights his name should be spoken of throughout the world with the same reverence accorded to directors like Akira Kurosawa and Stanley Kubrick, visionary masters of their art who transformed the cinematic language and influenced countless directors that followed them. Instead, half of his catalogue is unavailable on home video and much of the rest is only to be found with difficulty, in sub-par releases. On top of that, the one film most widely available and associated with his name apparently only has about 10 seconds worth of footage that he directed left in it!

One has to wonder how things came to this, and I can't honestly say that I know. After his second film, COME DRINK WITH ME, was released in 1966 it immediately changed the way martial arts films were made, and propelled the young heroine Cheng Pei Pei to super-stardom. If King Hu had stayed with Shaw Brothers he would doubtless have been made to churn out half a dozen similar films a year until the audience was fed up of seeing them. Apparently this wasn't what he fancied, so he left Shaw Brothers and set up his own production company in Taiwan. This allowed him to work at his own pace without compromising the particular attention to detail that characterises his work. DRAGON GATE INN (1967) might be seen as a development of the ideas explored in COME DRINK WITH ME, and is viewed by many (of those that have seen it) as the definitive wu xia pian. Personally I would give that accolade to Hu's next full-length feature, the 3 hour epic A TOUCH OF ZEN - the first martial arts film to win an award at Cannes. After the stunning achievement of ATOZ it seems that King Hu was a bit lost for a follow-up, and he only produced four more features in the 70's, three in the 80's (none of which are easily available or fondly remembered) and 1 and a bit films in the 90's, at the end of which he died.

I've no idea why his directorial career sputtered out so soon after its bright start, but his legacy was assured from the moment COME DRINK WITH ME hit the screens, and still lives on today. King Hu's vision of martial arts cinema influenced every other director that has dabbled in the genre - from Chang Cheh and Lo Wei through Tsui Hark down to Ang Lee and Zhang Yimou, none of the wu xia films they made would have been the same without the precedents created by the master.

Which brings us back to SWORDSMAN (1990), a project that appears to have been conceived by Tsui Hark as a way to pay respect to his idol and to reinvigorate the wu xia genre, which had more or less imploded on itself in the mid-eighties. The plan seems to have basically been to take the themes and conventions of the wu xia novel and update them with the visual and action style developed in the CHINESE GHOST STORY series - and to get the man that reinvented the genre 25 years earlier involved in reinventing it again. Apparently King Hu did not completely buy into the plan, and wanted to make the film in the more subtle, artful style of his earlier works (the scenes of soldiers walking up a cliff in line, apparently the only footage he shot that made the final cut, definitely implies a more restrained style than anything in the rest of the film). Tsui Hark has admitted that he didn't really appreciate the difference between his role as producer and as director until late in his career, and it is easy to imagine the conflicts when these two visionary directors found that their visions were not in the same direction. King Hu left the production very early on, and the film was finished by a small army of directors and much of the cast & crew from A CHINESE GHOST STORY 2.

The result was, as one might expect, a film much closer to ACGS2 than to anything King Hu had directed - the visual style of low cameras, wide-angle lenses and coloured filters does prove itself well suited to a more traditional wu xia storyline, and the wire-heavy action scenes added a new life to the fantastic martial arts prowess attributed to the heroes in wu xia novels such as the one on which this film was based.

The film did indeed reinvent and reinvigorate the martial arts genre, and was primarily responsible for the boom of similarly styled films that came out in the early 90's. For some reason it is overshadowed by some of the films it influenced, most obviously the 1992 sequel which replaced almost the entire cast with more bankable stars, with Jet Li taking over from Sam Hui and Brigitte Lin giving her most famous performance as Asia The Invincible.

Whilst the sequel undoubtedly raised the bar in terms of spectacle and style, I find that the 1990 film is in many ways more enjoyable. The pacing is far more manic than King Hu would have ever allowed, but the story doesn't fly by so fast that it becomes incoherent, which can't be said with all honesty about II. The cast don't have quite the same charisma, and the filming and editing of the action scenes is not quite as sophisticated, but it's still an accomplished work and a fine showcase for the unique charms of Hong Kong cinema.

Reviewer Score: 9

Reviewed by: phil28
Date: 01/28/2003
Summary: Jacky won his second B.S.A.

Jacky Cheung won his second best supporting actor award in his acting career at the Golden Horse Awards for this particular film. His last one was for "As Tears Go By" in 1988 at the Hong Kong Film Awards. His portrayal of Au Yeung-cheun is great.
The film with Sam Hui in traditional Chinese costume was pretty odd. The other principal actors - Aman Cheung, Fennie Yuen, Cecilia Yip and Lau Siu-ming were excellent. The storyline isn't too well, but boy, the swordplay is great. The supporting cast and crew has done a great job in making the film better to watch than it supposed to be.

Reviewed by: balstino
Date: 08/05/2002
Summary: OK to good. Rent it and see.

This film filled a spare 2 hour slot. It's quite good, but doesn't have very intricate sword fights, and jumps around a bit. The cheesy (but reasonable!) song kicks in a lot, and the comedy is of a fair standard overall. In short, there are better sword films, The bride with white hair, although not the greatest, is certainly better than this effort.

Reviewed by: RLM
Date: 05/17/2002
Summary: Fantastic Swordsplay Movie

Try not to be swayed by those who don't like this film (that it isn't worth watching). View it for yourself. It' a great period piece with fantastic swordsplay, humor, and intrigue. The story line involves the theft of a scroll with knowledge of supernatural martial arts. The characters in the film are over-the-top, just like you would want in an HK film, and there is an all-out battle for the scroll. This film is better than the sequel with Jet Li in my opinion. A must see. 10/10

Reviewed by: cho
Date: 10/30/2001
Summary: best of the three

you really can't compare this movie to the rest because each one is so different from another that the series is really just three different movies, not a trilogy.

The action is nicely done, though Sam Hui isn't as graceful as Jet Li. He can't do splits or flips(not very well,anyway). I liked this one better than two overall because the more dominant role of the Ming government than in II where the gov. soldiers disappeared in the second half of the film. This movie is about corruption and the evils it brings. The "Sacred Scroll" is just said to give one supernatural powers. You don't need to know exactly what, but everyone wants it.

For those that have seen part 2 and haven't seen part one,
There are LOTS of inconsistencies between these two.
First, Kiddo, has no crush on Ling. In this film, she disguises herself as a boy in the first half. Ling isn't in love with Ying at all, if anything, he likes Blue Phoenix.
The Sacred Scroll is from the emperor's library, I guess in part 2 the goverment stopped caring about retrieving the scroll that would teach supernatural power.
Kiddo's father is the Wah students' corrupt teacher.
As to where Asia the Invincible came from, I don't know. In the end one man steals the scroll, but he isn't related to the Sun Moon Sect at all.
Part one also has the origin of the "Hero of Heroes" song.

Reviewed by: zarrsadus
Date: 10/29/2001
Summary: action and humor but a bit confusing at the end

Even though this was an old movie from 1990, the action scenes seemed on par with anything out today. Well choreographed extravagent martial arts/swordplay is always nice to watch even when it was sometimes a little hard to follow the plot. While the plot got a bit confusing at the end when everyone was fighting for the scroll, up until then I could understand 99% of the storyline. Throughout the movie was also plenty of humor, making the film seem less serious and fit the overall mood of the film with it's supernatural stunts. My only dissapointment was the ending since it was wide, wide open, not really resolving anything at all. I guess that's why they made two more films which I have yet to see, but I would rather they wrapped up the first movie better. Oh well, I'm never one to pass up watching an HK movie, more of a reason to see Swordsman II tomorrow. 8 out of 10.

Reviewer Score: 8

Reviewed by: Sydneyguy
Date: 05/05/2001
Summary: Ok-ish

I found this a bit boring actually!! This is one of the 3 in the series and the 2nd is far better, with Jet li in the 2nd playing the main character!! No where near as bloody as the first!!


Reviewed by: sirrunrunshaw
Date: 03/28/2001

highly overated film-action didnt flow well.Ending leaves you thinking.Skip part 1 and go right to part 2

Reviewed by: jotarou
Date: 02/14/2001
Summary: Classy Production

I really liked the Swordsman. When I first saw the Swordsman II I felt that I had just seen what is probably Jet Li's best movie(and I still think it is). However, Swordsman surpasses its sequel in many areas. The main area is scope.

No wonder this film brought back the traditional martial arts film in the 1990's. The scope of the film was much bigger than the one that followed it. The production is subtle and classy unlike most Hong Kong films of the day and today. The direction of King Hu(Though no one knows how much of the film he really directed)is magnificent in capturing the emotional interaction between Swordsman Ling and the various people he runs in to. Tsui Hark, Ching Siu-Tung, Raymond Lee and Ann Hui also all had a hand in putting this picture together and they need to be given a hand because it is probably the best ensemble directed film made in a while.

In the sequel the whole cast changes and I wonder why. Sam Hui, though not much of a great martial artist as Jet Li is very classy and charming as Ling. His acting abilities supercede that of the martial arts demands. His sidekick, played by Cecilia Yip is really good also. The one actress who impressed me most however is Cheung Man. She just has an amazing level of class and beauty. In this film she is just gorgeous as the leader of the Highlanders. Granted Rosamund Kwan is no slouch but Cheung Man eats up the role. A nice relief from her Stephen Chow roles.

Tsui Hark is a true visionary and every film he makes that goes against the normal Hong Kong grain is always a treat!!

Reviewed by: JovialMojo
Date: 10/26/2000

This was also a TV series which was toward the more comedic side. I thought that this movie was heavily influenced by anime and the japanese style of film making. While I was watching this movie I was remind of a samurai movie but with more blood if it is at all possible. I really like the song. It kind of has a nostalgic feel to it and I think captured the entire feel of the movie.

Reviewed by: hkcinema
Date: 12/08/1999

This is Tsui Hark and King Hu's interpretation of a well-knownromantic and action-filled novel. Fox, an easy-going and good-natured swordsman from Ming Dynasty China, gets involved in a scramble for a priceless book. A senior swordsman, Lin, tells Fox the location of the book, and begs him to tell this secret to his son. Afterwards Fox has other strange encounters with a musical instrument and music scores falling into his hands. He becomes the target of several killers, who believe he possesses the book. He is rescued by a beautiful lady who would not let him see her face. Fox then finds out that his martial arts teacher, who is like a father to him, is his real enemy. He defeats his teacher, disposes of the book and leaves, laughing, with the beautiful lady in his arms.

[Reviewed by Rim Films Catalog]

Reviewed by: hkcinema
Date: 12/08/1999

Jacky Cheung won a Golden Horse award for Best Supporting Actor for his role in this film.

[Reviewed by Anonymous]

Reviewed by: hkcinema
Date: 12/08/1999

Sort of an all-star film - co-directed by legend-from-the-past King Hu, plus Tsui Hark, Ching Tsui Ting and others - the result is very confusing for anyone who doesn't know the Jin Yong novels it's based on. But perseverance pays; watch it a few times and you'll understand most of it. Good story, excellent special effects; but perhaps too un-accessible for most.

[Reviewed by Anonymous]