Shanghaiist likes writing about movies that elicit strong reactions — love it or hate it, there’s at least something to write about. Not so for current offering from acclaimed Hong Kong action director Tsui Hark, whose latest wuxia (武侠) epic, Seven Swords (七剑), came out in late July. This film doesn’t actually suck, but might be compared to lukewarm soup — served hot it might have been real tasty, served tepid it’s not yet cold enough to taste completely lousy.
We’ll tell you the gist of the story first. Remember from Chinese history that group of northern usurpers, the Manchus? In the 17th century, they overturned the Ming dynasty, the last Han Chinese imperial dynasty, and established the Qing dynasty. However, in order to quell resistance they ordered all practitioners of the martial arts, especially secret kungfu mastas, to turn themselves in or else the evil bounty hunter will ruthlessly kill all men, women and children. The anti-Manchu forces of Tian Di Hui (Heaven and Earth Society) are forced into temporary hiding.
The last redoubt of the Tian Di Hui is Wuzhuang, where kungfu masta Fu Qingzhu (played by famous actor/real-life masta Lau Kar-Leung) goes after narrowly escaping the clutches of the bad guys. Determined to make a last stand, Fu takes two fighters from Wuzhuang — Wu Yuanyin (played by Charlie Young) and Han Zhibang (played by Lu Yi) — and together, they embark on the perilous journey to Mount Heaven in search of the heavy hitters they need to repel the onslaught of the Manchus and their cronies. Perched on the snowy peaks they find the ultimate masta, Shadow-Glow, who has forged seven Excalibur-quality swords, and is now chillin’ with his four disciples, Yang Yunchong (played by Leon Lai), Xin Longzi (Tai Li-Wu ), Chu Zhaonan (Donnie Yen) and Mulang (Duncan Chow). And so the legend of the Seven Swords is born.
The good guys are fairly boring, so let’s talk about the bad guys — basically two people, the head honcho and the sidekick. The sidekick is a chick, but not your typical 17th century evil chick, because she’s Gothed out way before her time — white makeup and dark eyeliner, purple lips, body tattoos — and she kicks ass to boot! Apparently, Marilyn Manson does inspire violence and immorality. The head honcho is a bounty hunter named Fire-Wind, played by Sun Honglei. Shanghaiist’s favorite part of the film was Fire-Wind’s creepy psycho laugh, which was about the only good acting in the whole movie.
So now the embattled village of Wuzhuang is going to be defended by the Seven Swords in an epic showdown — think The Seven Samurai and you’ve pretty much got the picture. Not that Seven Swords deserves comparison to Kurosawa’s classic, but the plot is similar.
But wait, every wuxia story has to contain a love story which is usually a variation on the theme of unexpressed, unrequited, forbidden or betrayed love. Of course, everyone’s too busy kungfu fighting to bone, but that’s what makes Seven Swords different — we get to at least see a quickie.
So, you ask, what aspects of this film are convincing or well-done? How’s the swordplay? Any magical, shape-shifting swords that sever limbs or your money back? Yep. All of that, in abundance too — for those of you with ADD there’s plenty of carnage to keep your attention. And what of the wire work, people scaling walls, leaping buildings in a single bound, slicing and dicing enemies while balancing with one hand on a galloping horse’s back? Yep, that too. But honestly, if you’ve seen any wuxia films there’s nothing here that’s going to make you oooh and ahhh.
In fact, the film covers only the first chapter of a wuxia novel by the noted wuxia novelist Liang Yusheng. Apparently, Tsui Hark is planning on six (!) sequels. That isn’t such a bad idea, because we might at least get to know the characters and swords a bit more that way, and perhaps even see some of the good guys die (we like that).
Don’t get us wrong — we think wuxia films and TV shows are not a bad way to mindlessly pass a couple of hours at night. Just don’t think that half-price Tuesdays will make this one worth it — paying 35 RMB to watch a mediocre film is still too much. Our advice: Borrow it from a friend.
The movie’s official website has loads of information about the film, including galleries and production diaries (in both English and Chinese). One section worth noting is the characters section, which explains the characteristics of each of the swords and how they represent the seven states of period and mind that Master Shadow-Glow experienced on Mount Heaven. More information about the movie, as well as upcoming Tsui Hark projects, can be found at the Monkey Peaches, which contains a motherload of information on Chinese films. Film buffs should strictly avoid this site unless you don’t mind having your time sucked up.