review by Neo

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An uneven, yet weird ambiguous work...
He is weird. He is good. He is brilliant. He is on crack. He is the Asian Steven Spielberg. He is what you call an eccentric genius. Yes, he is Tsui Hark and he is back! Forget Black Mask 2, as he was on crack and look forward to his latest wu xia epic – Seven Swords. It is uneven and weird, but yet it is cool and loads of fun. Sure, Hark is back, though back to his best is rather debatable, as this is no Once Upon a Time in China or as original as the Blade, but it surely entertains and most of all reminding me of those great wu xia of the early 90s. In making Seven Swords, Hark is ambitious, and by being ambitious, it would mean a hit or miss. Sadly, it is not a hit, but lucky it is not a miss, as a result it is sort of struck in an area between. What do you call a movie neither great nor bad; perhaps it is what you call – mediocre. However, a mediocre Tsui Hark’s work is a par better than most crap out of HK these days. Sure it doesn’t have the feeling within New Dragon Inn or the brilliant wu xia of the 90s, but it surely reminds us of it and whatever the case is, it can only be a good thing. Yes, Seven Swords has been criticized by fans and critics, but to call it a complete failure would be wrong, as this is by far Hark’s best work since The Blade.

The two and a half hours plot goes like this: Fu Qingzhu (Lau Kar-Leung), a retired executioner from the previous dynasty, feels a moral obligation to try and put a stop to this brutality and decides to save Martial Village. He convinces Wu Yuanyin (Charlie Young) and Han Zhibang (Lu Yi) from the village to travel with him to the far away and mystical Mount Heaven in order to seek help from Master Shadow-glow (Ma Jingwu), a hermit who is a master of swords and leads a group of disciples with unimaginable swordsmanship. Master Shadow-glow agrees to help, and orders four of his best disciples to go. Together with Chu Zhaonan (Donnie Yen), Yang Yunchong (Leon Lai), Mulang (Duncan Chow), and Xin Longzi (Tai Li Wu), their heroic journey begins. Representing heroism and goodness at its finest, they come to be known as the SEVEN SWORDS.

Having said that, Seven Swords really does well to entertain, as it does have that sort of wu xia magical feeling that a lot of HK movies has lost in recent years. The opening scene is probably the most violent I have seen since, The Blade or perhaps Kill Bill 2. It is well filmed as well as producing tension within the audience and most of all, it entertains. Charlie Yeung’s comeback here is by far more relaxing than her less than comfort role in last year’s New Police Story. Yeung has the look of ancient times and wu xia is clearly a genre she belongs, as what wu xia can be without her naturally pretty looks. There are so many memorable scenes within the movie that made it a movie which missed a hell lot of opportunities to be a landmark of the genre. A key criticism I must make is the stupidity of the final 30 minutes that ruin the tension and the magically feel that Hark tried so hard to leave the audience with. As a result it is almost disappointing to witness a very low key final fight scene that almost wiped out any magical feeling about the swords that the movie so successfully created. The effect is that air popping out of a balloon, as swords are exchanged like musical chairs, thus any magically feeling about it - is lost.

Although the ending ends in a sequel like manner, Neo is actually delighted about it. It does not seem forced, and Hark’s message is clear – children as the hope of the future. It is a meaningful way to end Part 1 of such an epic, and perhaps I felt that I want to see more about the characters and the world within this movie that made Seven Swords better to me than it should be. Perhaps this is HK’s reply to Lord of the Rings, or perhaps not. But nonetheless, despite any criticism that I have seamlessly put forward, Seven Swords is a beautiful movie to watch and one that should not be missed, as the scenery and the at times very uneven storyline caused by the 4 hours chop down to 2.5 – tells a weird yet magical tale and to me, it is a movie that you have to experience yourself in order to understand, as some parts of the movie is so magical that words can not describe. But then some parts are just awful to watch and one must be wondering whether Tsui Hark was on crack when he casts Michael Wong in a totally unnecessary cameo. Not only did it spoil the mood of the movie, but it is so damn annoying that it is not funny at all. In a way, I am blaming Michael Wong for destroying the movie, as the parts after his presence resulted into Hark’s worst part of the movie. Yeah, I am a bias person.

Donnie Yen is a martial artist that I have admires right behind Bruce Lee and Jet Li, and just as he proclaimed himself, this is by far Yen’s best performance – cool, calculated, deadly and yet with a hidden mysterious past within him, that made his character all the more interesting and perhaps stealing every scene he is in. His romance with the Korean girl is one memorable moment in the movie. Kim has this electrifying effect upon Yen and the audience. Her looks are damn seductive and yet her face is hidden behind layers of pain and suffering. It is her vulnerable character, yet the way she has survived for so long, despite living a life in captivity internally and externally. A truly beautiful gem and what I call a brave performance.

As for Leon Lai, he just seems so miscast that it is not funny. His role is clearly not his, but rather a role that Jet Li would have done so much better. He does an average job trying to pull it off, but he is no Jet Li – either in swordplay or physical presence. Li played a similar role in Swordsman 2, and did it to damn good perfection. Sorry, I am a bias Jet Li fan, but then again, I did praise Leon Lai in Infernal Affairs 3, and really think about it who else can play a stoic role better than Jet Li?

All in all, Seven Swords is an epical movie, one that doesn’t exactly fail and doesn’t exactly succeeds, as it is on a mid road – like playing tennis, hitting a few and missing a few. Tsui Hark is definitely a gambler, and he is a weird gambler, and in Seven Swords, he took a gamble and a neither succeed nor fail. Perhaps I am just damn confused or perhaps I just can not bring myself totally pan a movie that has so much magical moments within itself. Yes it is damn outright uneven and in fact some scenes, I was like – wtf? However, Seven Swords does entertain and Tsui Hark is a very visual director, which combines well with the beautiful back drop of China. Hark’s ultimate message is surprisingly not about swords, but about children – today’s hope. No matter how bleak today is, if there are people living in this world – there will always be hope. Hark also ponders upon the issue of commercialism and money. How the bad guys are drive by one thing – money. He asks questions – How much is a person worth? Can a person be measured by money? Why? How? The answer is simply – it is human nature to be selfish and greedy, but to what extent is moral to one? Perhaps the answer is as simply as it depends. Nonetheless, Tsui Hark has produced an ambitious piece of work, along the lines of Hark’s true style. With Seven Swords, Hark may well be on his way back to his weird yet magical world of wu xia, and let’s hope it is. After all it is Tsui Hark’s best for years and let’s just hopes there is a tomorrow for Seven Swords. In other words – bring it on…Seven Swords 2: The Return of Tsui Hark…

I rate it 8/10

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Genre: Romance/Action - Wu-xia
Director: Director: Tsui Hark
Cast: Leon Lai Ming, Charlie Yeung Choi-Lei, Donnie Yen Chi-Tan, Lau Kar-Leung, Lu Yi, Kim So-Yeon, Sun Hong-Lei, Duncan Chow Kwan-Tat, Tai Li-Wu, Ma Jing-Wu
Reviewed by Neo (Andrew), October 2005