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Review: ‘Sword Master’ slices and dices but can’t match classic wuxia

Kenny Lin in the movie "Sword Master."
(Well Go USA Entertainment)

Many wuxia films could be called “Sword Master,” but this particular entry has the distinction of reviving a classic story by genre novelist Gu Long, and remaking a celebrated Shaw Brothers movie from 1977 (“Death Duel”) that starred this film’s director, Derek Yee.

A decidedly eccentric stew of venerated wuxia characters and themes, Yee’s slightly altered version brings together a handful of storylines: a terminally ill, proud swordsman (Peter Ho, made up like the fifth KISS member) who feels lost after hearing his mortal enemy, known as the Third Master, has perished; a powerful clan princess (Yiyan Jiang) seeking vengeance on her beloved, a rival clan scion who jilted her; and a poor, taciturn bordello worker (Kenny Lin) hiding out with the family of a prostitute (Mengjie Jiang) because he’s the one the other two are looking for, an expert martial artist grown tired of bloodshed.

When everyone’s paths cross, “Sword Master” manages some fever-pitch fun, the blades and their wielders defying gravity in aggressively composed, 3-D-mindful ways. But for the most part this is a clunky hodgepodge of old-fashioned warrior tropes, awkward humor, five-alarm melodrama and CGI-dependent 21st century action filmmaking that favors visual effects — in this case, the subpar kind — over the heaving athleticism of grounded choreography. Slick and silly, “Sword Master” rarely reaches the thrilling heights of the many kinetic twirl-and-slice epics directed by its producer, the legendary Tsui Hark.

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‘Sword Master’

Mandarin with English subtitles

Running time: 1 hour, 47 minutes

Not rated

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Playing: AMC Atlantic Times Square 14, Monterrey Park; AMC Tustin 14 at the District, Tustin; AMC Orange 30, Orange

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