HONG KONG (Hollywood Reporter) - The parade of Chinese martial arts and swords epics continues with the release of Tsui Hark's comeback venture, "Seven Swords."
Unfortunately, the Hong Kong director's work -- so breathtaking and influential in such late-1980s classics as "Once Upon a Time in China," "A Chinese Ghost Story" and "Peking Opera Blues" -- now seems ordinary with this bloated Ching Dynasty actioner.
"Seven Swords" -- set to screen next month at the Toronto International Film Festival -- badly lacks the spark and flourish of past works. For pure wuxia spectacle, there is one classic fight sequence squeezing two wall-scaling swordsmen between a narrow corridor passage. Otherwise, the movie is long and labored. Worse, it thinks it is deeper and more meaningful than it is. Genre fans might enjoy Tsui's whiplash editing, but he doesn't have Zhang Yimou's visual depth or breadth.
Set in the dusty, bleak terrain in West China, the 17th century story has more in common with gunslinging Westerns than silk-and-sword, Imperial court intrigues. A group of murderous bandits is empowered by the emperor (the same ruthless historical ruler as "Hero") to rid the country of rebellious martial-arts practitioners. This edict is used by the bad guys as an excuse to collect as many heads as possible -- including civilians, women and children -- for maximum bounty.
Realizing that a small, innocent village is in the path of these black-clad goth marauders, a group of righteous kung fu champions leaves its snow-capped mountain retreat -- not unlike the camp the new Batman visited -- to save the peasants. Five are disciples of a sword-making master, and two are villagers who are given special blades.
Basically, it is "Seven Samurai" and "The Magnificent Seven" revisited, though Tsui draws directly from the classic wuxia novel "Seven Swordsmen From Mountain Tian." The period piece is mythic in scope but ultimately pulp in essence.
Instead of reveling in a simple story line about Taoist heroes and greedy nasties, Tsui weighs down the picture with cumbersome philosophic themes and overwrought love triangles. Tsui might be a cinema genius -- he did single-handedly craft the continuity-defying cutting in Hong Kong action films -- but he can't steer a narrative in a straight line. He also mistakes brooding characters for deep thoughts.
Even from a popcorn perspective, Tsui misses the mark. The most eye-catching villain is knocked off barely midway through. What's left is a story that gets pulled all over the place. There's a Korean concubine, who is the obsession of the marauding lord; a village girl and her wavering romance with one swordsman; a former executioner-turned-hero; a hidden traitor in the midst; and too many nondescript events that get melodramatic play even though they have little bearing.
Wasted is a potentially star-making turn by Donnie Yen (last seen in "Hero"), who always combines a stoic charisma with ass-kicking kung fu skills. Also, legendary Shaw Brothers-era kung fu artist Lau Kar-leung gets short shrift as the sword group's leader. By the final reel, it becomes clear that the climatic battle is little more a mawkish fight about a girl rather than a monumental struggle for justice in the middle kingdom.
Beijing Ciwen Film & TV Production, Boram Entertainment, and City Glory Pictures present a Film Workshop Co. Ltd. production.
Cast: Chu Zaonan: Donnie Yen; Wu Yuanyin: Charlie Young; Fu Qinzhu: Lau Kar-leung; Yang Yunchong: Leon Lai-ming; Fire-wind: Sun Hong-lei; Green Pearl: Kim So-yuen; Liu Yufang: Zhang Jingchsu; Mulang: Duncan Chow; Xin Longzi: Tai Li-wu.
Director: Tsui Hark; Screenwriters: Chun Tin-lam, Cheung Chi-sing, Tsui Hark; Producers: Tsui Hark, Lee Joo-ick, Ma Zhong-jun, Pan Zhizhong; Executive producers: Raymond Wong, Hong Bong-chul, Zhang Yong; Based on the novel by: Liang Yusheng; Director of photography: Keung Kwok-man; Art director: Eddie Wong; Action director: Lau Kar-leung; Action choreographers: Stephen Tung Wai, Xiong Xin-xin; Music: Kenji Kawai; Costumes: Poon Wing-yan; Image designer: Shirley Chan; Editor: Angie Lam.
Looks good don't it???
I can't hardly wait , Lau Kar Leung and Donnie Yen together, must be great!!!