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Genre: Martial Arts
Starring: Sam Hui, Cecilia Yip, Jacky Cheung, Sharla Cheung, Fanny Yuen, Lau Siu Ming
Director: King Hu, Tsui Hark, Ching Siu Tung, Raymond Lee
Rating: PG
Year Made: 1990




- New and Original Movie Trailers
- Movie Stills/Photo Slide Show
James Wong Interview/Jacky Cheung Interview
- Deleted Scenes




Languages: Cantonese/Mandarin
Subtitles: English/Simplified Chinese/
Traditional Chinese
Aspect Ratio: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Sound: Dolby Digital 5.1/DTS
Running Time: 1 hr 57 min
Region Code: ALL




A young swordsman named Fox is on a quest to recover a sacred scroll stolen from the imperial library. The scroll contains the secret to a powerful martial arts technique. Whoever possesses it is assured of martial arts supremacy. The eunuch guardians want it back at all costs. So do many warring martial arts factions. They are all more than willing to kill and get it. This leads to betrayal, double crosses and broken allegiances, culminating in a spectacular showdown.


This movie will go down in history simply for 2 reasons. First, for having the most director and co-directors for a feature film and two, for reviving the martial arts aka ‘wu xia’ genre in HK almost a decade of absence.

Rumours has it that acclaimed director, the late King Hu (“A Touch of Zen”, “Dragon Inn”) abruptly left the set because of some creative differences with Producer Tsui Hark although he did received top billing in the end. Tsui and his fellow directorial friends subsequently took over the director’s chair.

Based on a Louis Cha’s novel, this movie adaptation is actually a laughable affair. However, it’s a good mix of pugilistic, heroism and political issues as compared to the sequels (will get back to that in the future). For the record, Cha’s original novel is anything but short. However, the screenwriters managed to successfully mutilate the whole plotting and condensed it into a 120 minutes movie. So at the end, the product smells a little of Cha’s inputs and the rest belongs to the screenwriters’ creativity.

The first time I watched "Swordsman", I was totally immersed in the fanciful swordsplay choreography to bother much about the plotting and the various “blink-and-missed” characters. Now when I revisit this movie on dvd, I realized some of the scenes go on far too long and some characters are placed there just for the sake of being there.

The owner of this dvd (who is also a fellow reviewer of moviexclusive.com) laments that he didn’t like it liked he used to. He pointed out there were plenty of weaknesses, the ludicrous quick-editing for example. But I have to refute that his so-called quick-editing is the typical style which applies to many films made in the era and before. Perhaps it’s to give it a false sense of emergency or to hide some technical constraints.

What really works in this film is the wonderful casting. Sam Hui’s performance as the carefree pugilist Fox is spot on although purists find that Sam is not the perfect person for the role. Jacky Cheung for example won the Golden Horse Award for his baddie role Au Yeung. And who can forget the wonderful Cecilia Yip as Fox’s bumbling sidekick Kiddo, Sharla Cheung and the bunch of recognizable supporting actors liked Lau Shun, Yuen Wah, Wu Ma and the late Lam Ching Yin.

Ching Siu-Tung or better known as Tony Ching in the Western markets did a fantastic job choreographing the wildly imaginative martial-arts sequences thus keeping action buffs liked myself glued to the seats. Ching’s (in his pre “House of Flying Dangers” and “Hero” days) unique style of choreography has this elegancy and poetry which others try hard to accomplish in the martial-arts genre. The trio-fight sequence on an old junkship still remains as one of the most memorable scenes in the movie.

There were plenty of blood-spluttering scenes and also heads being lopped off as well, enough to warrant a harsher rating in today’s era. It’s fortunate that our generation gets to enjoy all the craziness in full glory on the big screen all thanks to the non-existence of film rating in the 90’s.

After repeated viewings, “Swordsman” rules mainly because of its great cast performance and action choreography minus the cheesy CG effects commonly found in wuxia serials and movies nowadays. The many sub-plots that were introduced got nowhere and the back-stabbings got a bit tired after a while.

Pick this title if you intend to introduce yourself to the good old martial arts genre, see for yourself why “Swordsman” revived the ‘wuxia’ genre and spinned two more sequels that starred International Superstar Jet Li and retired romance actress, Bridgette Lin Chin-Hsia. Just bear with the plot, indulge in the catchy theme song and enjoy the wire-works!


It's a pity director Tsui Hark and retired pop icon Sam Hui were not involved in the making of segments but we still have to give Fortune Star some credits for including some basic features.

New and Original Movie Trailers - I didn’t know the original movie trailer last almost 5 minutes; see it purely for nostalgia factor. The new trailer is cut mainly for the Western audiences with zilch dialogues and flashy cheesy wordings added.

Movie Stills/Photo Slide Show- I'm not a fan of photo slide show but this a nice feature if you love seeing lovely well-taken photo stills.

James Wong Interview/Jacky Cheung Interview - The interview with composer James Wong last 8 minutes but will be more interesting if it’s 18 minutes or more because he’s such an engaging talker. The man yanked about how difficult it is to work with Tsui Hark over the theme song and his dream was to write a Broadway musical after he stopped writing scores for movies. Pity he died shortly of lung cancer after this interview was recorded in 2004.

The Jacky Cheung interview is slightly longer and involved a lot of typical PR stuff, the politically-correct star did however throw in an interesting anecdote – an episode involving Tsui Hark throwing his temper over the performance of the extras in the background.

Deleted Scenes - There are 2 short deleted scenes. Nothing crucial or anything spectacular. In fact it’s only a minute long, keeping them will do no harm to the entire running pace of the movie.


This title is one of the many remastered HK classics released under the Fortune Star label. Although defects can still be found, the many night scenes in the movie projected itself pretty brightly on screen sans for some grainy shots. For a movie, which is 17 years old, the remastered version is still considerably acceptable in terms of visual. Ironically, this restored version shows very clearly the wire that is harness to the actors during some of the ‘flying’ sequences.

The soundtrack is remastered in both DTS and Dolby Digital 5.1. The various explosions heard in the movie are clearly and more powerfully conveyed through the DTS than DD5.1. But it’s a job well done by Fortune Star giving the movie a more justifiable soundtrack than the original. In addition, the disc comes with both the Cantonese and dubbed Mandarin track. I suggest you go for the former and just switched on the English sub if you are Cantonese-handicapped like me. Be warned though, not all the subtitles are grammatically correct.



Review by Linus Tee


Other HK Classics on DVD:

. Dragons Forever DVD

. Wheels On Meals DVD

. Iron Monkey DVD


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