SF, fantasy, horror, mystery website
illustrated SF and general satire
music reviews
action movie heroines
helicopters in movies and TV
VideoVista is published by PIGASUS Press

Seven Swords
cast: Leon Lai, Liu Chia-liang, Donnie Yen, and Charlie Young

director: Tsui Hark

135 minutes (15) 2005
widescreen ratio 2.35:1
Hong Kong Legends DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 3/10
reviewed by Jonathan McCalmont
Since the handover to China, it's unarguable that the Hong Kong film industry has run into trouble. Stripped of a lot of their talent in the 1990s, and now struggling to reach the same global success as that enjoyed by directors from Japan, Korea and even China, the Hong Kong film industry that brought kung fu to the world are now desperate for a success. Given a large budget and an epic scope, many saw veteran director Tsui Hark's return as a potential tipping point, allowing the Hong Kong studios to capitalise on the world wide popularity of kung fu and Asian cinema. However, if the disappointing box-office and lukewarm critical reaction is anything to go by, Seven Swords is not going to reinvigorate anyone's film industry.

Originally four hours long but then cut and cut again for European audiences, Seven Swords is an attempt at combining the gritty, dusty feel of the old Conan movies with the epic plotlines and fantasy elements of the Wu Xia genre. Set in the 1660s, the film tells of the first Manchu Emperor's decision to outlaw the practice of martial arts. Anyone found practicing martial arts is to be put to death. As a result huge gangs of martial artists have joined up with the empire and are travelling from town to town collecting the bounties on the heads of anyone who has been trained as a martial artist (and a few who haven't). Facing destruction at the hands of Fire-wind's army, the inhabitants of a small village turn to a great sword master for help. He, along with six other warriors, decides to use their extraordinary skill and uniquely designed swords to protect the villagers and destroy the evil Fire-wind.

Clearly inspired by the success of the likes of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Hero and House Of Flying Daggers, Hark realises that modern audiences want a little more from their Wu Xia than elaborate fight scenes; they want a little bit of drama, maybe some romance or some tragedy. Hark then decides to bolt a number of subplots onto the simple main plot as love triangles emerge from nowhere only to recede, minor characters betray the heroes and old rivalries flare up. The problem is that none of these elements actually work.

Seven Swords was originally four hours long. The UK version is just over two hours long. This means that effectively half the film is missing and rather than cut out the expensive and crowd pleasing fight scenes, the director has chosen to cut out such 'useless' scenes as the introduction of the characters and their swords. As a result the dramatic tensions between the characters make no sense at all and you never get a real idea of who any of the characters are, or why one of them was walled-up in a cave. The shredded narrative then has to struggle with the fact that the producers seemed not to bother spending much money on the subtitling meaning that the subtitles are at best hard to follow and at worse so poorly written as to be incomprehensible. The actors also seem poorly suited to the roles thrust upon them as the women all come across as whining weaklings and the men compete to see who can give the most dull and monotonous reading. The upshot of the disastrous butchery of the film's dramatic elements is that the film drags horribly in places and is actually quite dull. I actually managed to fall asleep twice while watching this film.

Even as an action film Seven Swords fails to impress as the action sequences switch between being filmed in close-up so as to make the action impossible to follow and being filmed from the middle distances with the action out of focus and off-centre. Indeed, the only scene that really works is the final confrontation in a tight corridor but this is because the unintentional sense of confusion that surrounds every fight sequence actually makes the scene seem even more unusual and otherworldly. Indeed, other-worldliness is a problem that affects the visual character of the entire film as the director tries to combine wirework and colourful characters with a gritty and realistic backdrop. This stylistic indecision serves only to make the frequently lacklustre wirework seem even more fake than usual and the action sequences harder to follow as virtually everyone wears the same set of dusty grey rags.

Despite a large budget and some decent creative talent, Seven Swords' poor direction and aborted attempts at drama serve only to remind you quite how fantastic a film like House Of Flying Daggers really is. The breathtaking beauty and focussed dramatic content of Yimou Zhang's films reveal Seven Swords for what it truly is: ugly and dull.

Did you find this review helpful? Any comments are always welcome!
Please support VideoVista, buy stuff online using these links - | | Send it | W.H. Smith

copyright © 2001 - 2006 VideoVista