A powerful swordsman is haunted by the destructive impact his deadly talents have on others. Weary of the bloodshed and violence from the martial arts world, he banishes himself to the humble life of a vagrant, wandering the fringes of society. But his violent past refuses to let him go quietly. The master swordsman must regain the ability to wield his sword and fight those disrupting the peace he so desperately craves.
China is known for its eclectic film industry, from grand sweeping epics, to bare-knuckled martial arts, and everything else in between, there is always something to choose from. “Sword Master” falls into the aforementioned “in between” category, and the reason is because while the movie employs some beautiful visuals, much of it belongs to CGI. A lot of the film was obviously shot on location but many of the wonderfully choreographed fencing scenes were either shot on a set, or utilized excessive computer graphics, depreciating the movie’s overall ambiance and mood. Despite this, “Sword Master” still makes for enjoyable viewing.
Hsieh Shao-Feng (Lin Gengxin), a self-taught, highly skilled assassin, is sick and tired of the bloodshed he has administered over the years, to both the guilty and the innocent, and decides to leave his violent ways behind him. He changes his appearance and name, now known as Ah Chi, so he can live a normal life. No more killings, no more bloodshed, he dreams of simpler times, with a family and a house on a piece of land that he can farm. He finds work in a brothel, and befriends the beautiful Hsiao Li (Jiang Mengjie) but when Yen Shisan (Peter Ho), a famous assassin, turns up in the village one day, word gets out that he was seeking to find Hsieh Shao-Feng, so he could fight him and take his place within his legendary swordsman family. Keeping a low profile and with nobody knowing the truth about who he really is, Ah Chi saves Hsiao Li from a violent encounter with a paying customer and takes her back to her quiet, peaceful village in the mountains.
When Hsiao Li’s brother and mother discover that he saved her, they immediately take him in as one of their own. For a while, things are good as he begins to live the life he always dreamed of but soon thereafter, Mu-Yung Chiu-Ti (Jiang Yiyan), Ah Chi’s bride-to-be whom he left at the altar, comes looking for him and eventually finds him. She hails from a very powerful family and threatens to destroy the village if he does not go back with her. He reluctantly agrees, on the condition that Hsiao Li and her family be left untouched. She agrees and he leaves with her. Realizing that the only reason she wants to marry him is because of he is ranked #3 in the sword world, and has great status, he leaves her and heads back to Hsiao Li and her family but Mu-Yung, embarrassed once again, vows to kill Ah Chi and everyone close to him. When the assassin Yen Shisan discovers Ah Chi’s true identity, he challenges him to the ultimate fight but Ah Chi agrees on the condition that he assist him in battling Mu-Yung Chiu-Ti and her legion of followers, only then will he agree to his sword fight. A deal is agreed upon and both men wait for Mu-Ying but when she arrives with more men than they had anticipated, they quickly realize that they may never get to their duel after all.
“Sword Master” never takes itself too seriously, allowing occasional moments of slapstick to take over and that leads to its eventual downfall. Had they removed all farcical elements and concentrated more on the relationship between Ah Chi and Mu-Yung, and allowed you to discover, much earlier on in the story, the reasons why he left his violent life behind, it would have made for a more enthralling feature. Instead, we only get glimpses of that life, told in flashback. The film introduces a plethora of characters and at times, it is very difficult trying to keep up with them all, especially considering that the filmmakers try to give almost every single person we meet, substance and materialization, a very important element that is typically only required for the central characters. Overall, director Derek Yee delivers a competent and satisfactory movie, filled with wuxia action and some terrific swordsmanship but had the filmmakers chose to excise some comedic facets, and concentrate more on the central characters’ dramatic manifestations, it would have made a far more interesting story.
Available on Blu-ray & DVD Tuesday, April 11th