The swords, and the performers, fly fast and furious in Derek Yee’s Wuxia epic remake of 1977’s Death Duel. Produced and co-written by Hong Kong filmmaking legend Tsui Hark, Sword Master is a visually opulent if narratively confusing martial arts extravaganza that should well please the genre’s many fans, even if American audiences have unfortunately been denied the opportunity to see the film in 3D.
The visually dazzling action sequences more than compensate for the stilted dramaturgy.
The convoluted storyline revolves around several principal characters, including Xiaofeng (Kenny Lin), the “Third Master” who, traumatized by his violent past, gives up his sword, spreads false rumors about his death and goes to work anonymously in a brothel as a lowly janitor; Yan (Peter Yo), a terminally ill master swordsman who becomes despondent and alcohol-dependent upon learning that he will never fulfill his years-long goal of defeating Xiaofeng in a duel; Quidi (Yiyan Jiang), Xiaofeng’s spurned bride who vows revenge and suffers an emotional breakdown when she thinks he’s dead; and Xiao Li (Mengjie Jiang), a prostitute who falls in love with Xiaofeng when he rescues her from abuse at the hands of her clients.
Viewers unfamiliar with the source material are not likely to be able to follow all of the digressive and highly melodramatic plot strands. But it hardly matters, considering the profusion of elaborate fight sequences featuring the high-flying wire work and CGI effects that have come to typify the genre. Representing a clearly nostalgic exercise for its director, who starred in the original film, Sword Master features the sort of gorgeous painterly landscapes and dazzlingly balletic action choreography that aficionados crave.
The filmmaker is less successful in conveying the characters’ psychological complexities. The lead performers are not always up to the task either, with the notable exception of Yiyan Jiang, mesmerizing as the Third Master’s vengeful ex-lover who sets so much of the plot in motion.
Production: Bona Film Group, Film Unlimited Production Company
Distributor: Well Go USA Entertainment
Cast: Kenny Lin, Peter Ho, Yiyan Jiang, Mengjie Jiang
Director: Derek Yee
Screenwriters: Derek Yee, Tsui Hark
Producer: Tsui Hark
Executive producers: Yu Dong, Jeffrey Chan, John Zeng, Cao Guxiong
Directors of photography: Chan Wai Lin, Chan Chi Ying
Production designers: Silver Zhang, Fion Lee, Wu Zhen, Guo Rong
Editor: Hongyu Zu
Composer: Peter Kam
Not rated, 105 minutes