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SEVEN SWORDS (Chat gim) (HK)

  Publicity Stills of "Seven Swords"
(Courtesy of Eng Wah)

Language: Mandarin
Director: Tsui Hark
Starring: Leon Lai, Charlie Young, Donnie Yen, Sun Honglei, Lu Yi, Kim So Yuen, Duncan Chow
RunTime: 2 hrs 30 mins
Released By: Eng Wah
Official Movie Website: http://www.sevenswordsthefilm.com

Rating: PG

Opening Day: 4 August 2005


In the early 1600’s, the Manchurians took over the sovereignty of China and established the Ching Dynasty. With many pro-nationalist revolts occurring, the newly set-up government immediately imposed a ban on the study and practice of the Martial Arts; forbidding them altogether in an attempt to gain effective control and order. Fire-wind (Sun Hong-Lei), a military official from the previous dynasty, sees this as an opportunity to make a fortune for himself by helping to implement the new law. Greedy, cruel, and immoral, Fire-wind ravages and ranges across North-western China with his next goal to attack the final frontier; an intransigent and hold-out town known as the Martial Village.

Fu Qingzhu, 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 and Han Zhiban from the village to travel with him to the far away and mystical Mount Heaven in order to seek help from Master Shadow-Glow, 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, Yang Yunchong, Mulang, and Xin Longzi, their heroic journey begins. Representing heroism and goodness at its finest, they come to be known as the SEVEN SWORDS. Returning to Martial Village, they soon decide for safety’s sake to move and lead the entire village to a safer place. Soon confusion reigns as they discover that their food and water has been poisoned, and that all of the escape routes have been marked with signs leading the enemy directly to them. They realize that there must be an undercover spy in their midsts; but who is it? The SEVEN SWORDS must identify the mole before Fire-wind’s army gets to them; otherwise all will be lost. With so many things going wrong and stuck between a narrow gap of life and death, the situation is further complicated by the emergence of an unexpected and unwelcome love triangle.…

Adapted from renowned writer Liang Yu-Shen’s timeless classic, SEVEN SWORDS is an action-packed wuxia epic tapestry, interwining love, betrayal, and heroism.


In my opinion, the martial arts genre of the 21st century was revived by the wildly successful Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (CTHD), by Lee Ang. The film won recognition with some Oscars, including one for Best Foreign Film, propelled starlet Zhang Ziyi to stardom, and brought Yuen Wo-Ping even more prominence in the action film arena. This film set the bar for other martial arts films to follow.

Zhang Yimou responded with two efforts - Hero and House of Flying Daggers, albeit with mixed results. All the films mentioned had stylized martial arts, lavish cinematography, beautiful soundtrack, with easily recognizable and bankable stars like Chow Yun-Fatt, Michelle Yeoh, Jet Li, Tony Leung and Andy Lau.

It is of no doubt that one day director Tsui Hark will return to the genre, even after the dismal performance of "Lengend of Zu". He has been involved in the past with successful martial arts films like the Once Upon A Time In China series, and the Swordsman series of movies, and in his latest offering, he brings Seven Swords to the cinematic screen.

Seven Swords is adapted from the novel "Seven Swords Descent Mount Heaven", in which a team of seven swordsmen help defend a village of Heaven and Earth Society pugilists from an army of mercenaries hired by the Emperor to exterminate all martial arts exponents. Each of these swordsmen wield a unique weapon bestowed upon them by the resident Mount Heaven heretic, hence the title.

Does the storyline sound familiar? Probably, as most of the audience of today would have already watched Lord of the Rings and maybe even Seven Samurai / The Magnificent Seven. The first half of the Seven Swords at times look like a cousin of LOTR: The Two Towers, with its marauding band of villains and foot soldiers in black armour looking like nasty Uruk-hais, the heralding of villagers to safe haven, and the featuring of archers and cannons in battles. Some might even see similarities to the Star Wars subplot of the Jedi extermination here.

The film's original cut was rumoured to be four hours long, and the cinematic release being only 150 minutes, you might wonder if the narrative will be smooth flowing. Unfortunately it fell victim to editing. As with most martial arts films, themes of betrayal, trust, loyalty and friendship are staples, and Seven Swords is no exception. Some subplots which had potential to add depth to the overal story went unfulfilled, and while there are attempts to philosophize character motives, these stick out sorely from a lack of solid character back-stories.

Does the sword maketh the man, or the man maketh the sword? This is one question that the audience might be thinking about, especially in martial arts films where swordsplay is primary. The seven swords are each unique in make, and the film spares precious minutes in highlighting their individual characteristics. But we know that no matter how powerful a weapon is, its ability to inflict maximum damage solely comes from the sword wielder himself. This questioning theme runs through the movie, especially when we see some characters using different swords interchangeably.

Relationships amongst the characters, especially of the romantic kind, is somewhat messy. You have unrequited love, love triangles, and sudden lusts and crushes. Well, the latter two happened I guess, as a consequence of having a watered-down narrative. For instance, Charlie Young and Leon Lai shared just one scene together (prior to that they have never met), and the next time you see both their characters on screen, they are professing their love for each other like Butterfly Lovers.

While the narration had room for improvement, the action is safely, top notch. It's refreshing for once to not see slow-motion artistic action sequences suggesting obvious wire work. Here, the swordsplay is believable, gritty and tense. Credit must go to legendary martial arts director Lau Kar-Leung, who also stars in the film, for coming up with seven unique swordsplay for each of the characters, based on the characteristics of the swords. If you'd enjoyed Jet Lee's enclosed space fist fight (that toilet cubicle scene) in Unleashed, you'll jump for joy with Seven Sword's slick and unconventional swordfighting in a claustrophobic alleyway, amongst others.

It is good marketing to have recognizable stars in movies like these, but with many characters, each star has limited screen time. Leon Lai wasn't able to act much in a role that sees him diminished to being Donnie Yen's sidekick. Not that I'm complaining though, as Yen oozes more screen charisma and is highly believable as a top notch swordsman, given his previous martial arts outings in Once Upon A Time In China 2, and Hero, both up against Jet Li. Charlie Young stars as one of the few females in the cast, and lends some humour to the film as she struggles to master the weapon bestowed upon her. Nothing much can be said about the villains, as most of them are one dimensional, with the main villain being an over the top character. The sole motive of the villains seem to be monetary gains, not power nor glory, which is quite peculiar for martial arts villains, most of whom will be more interested in being the top "jiang hu" pugilist. The prowess of the villains were interesting, but most were dispatched too early, too fast. I would have liked some of them to have given our heroes a tougher time too, as Seven Swords go through most battles unscathed.

Those pampered by beautiful soundtracks from recent martial arts films might struggle to find something similar here. While the pulsating track used when our heroes ride through the snow capped mountains is memorable, you'll barely hear the other tracks as they seemed to be drowned out by all the action. Soundtrack buffs might lament the lack of appropriate music to punctuate and complement the action sequences, but I can assure that the action alone speaks for itself.

In short, watching Seven Swords is like forging a sword of your own. You'll need to go through some pain, before being able to enjoy the fruits of your labour. While it didn't reach the high bar set by CTHD, if this film proves to be successful, it has already set into motion the seeds to a possible sequel.

Movie Rating:

Review by Stefan Shih

The latest swordfighting extravaganza heralding the return of Tsui Hark to the martial arts film genre)


. Three Kingdoms: Resurrection of the Dragon (2008)

. An Empress And The Warriors (2008)

. The Warlords (2007)

. The Curse of the Golden Flowers (2006)

. A Battle of Wits (2006)

. The Promise (2005)

. Seven Swords (2005)

. The Myth (2005)

. House of Flying Daggers (2004)

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