Review: ‘Sword Master’ slices and dices but can’t match classic wuxia
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.
Mandarin with English subtitles
Running time: 1 hour, 47 minutes
Playing: AMC Atlantic Times Square 14, Monterrey Park; AMC Tustin 14 at the District, Tustin; AMC Orange 30, Orange
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