Sword Master is an epic 3-D blockbuster from China based on the novel The Third Master’s Sword (think of it as a Chinese Eragon). It concerns two master swordsmen, one who has gone into hiding, his soul troubled by the violence staining his past with blood of innocents, the other desperately searching for his elusive rival and the final duel that will give his life meaning.
The intriguing premise sadly cannot live up to its full potential thanks to hammy execution and horrendously misjudged broad comedy. The budget gives it an aesthetic that is reminiscent of the feature length straight to DVD editions of Power Ranger’s knockoffs such as VR Troopers or Ninja Turtles: The Next Mutation. The camera films the martial arts action by shooting the swords like an overambitious porno would shoot its penises, having them wildly thrust about in random places regardless of their effectiveness.
It would be less forgivable were it aimed at children. Unfortunately, some crass jokes at the expense of prostitutes close that avenue off completely. It is gaudily colourful, frantically edited and nails-on-a-blackboard loud at times, making it look like it’s a cynical attempt to appeal to the ADHD riddled, toy-commercial-as-entertainment generation, but is aimed at adults. As a merchandise collecting, comic-con going kind of 30-something that has seen every Marvel movie bar none, this should be the kind of thing I have an ironic appreciation of, but it can’t shake accusations of being pandering and cynical.
The film does have some bright spots, noticeably whenever the enigmatic Yen Shih-San is on screen, who’s charismatic badassery breathes life into this plastic action figure of a film, and is a stark contrast to his rival, the dour and moody Hsieh Shao-Feng who is as boring to listen to as he is to look at, but even he can’t save the film from feeling like a nineties ad campaign for an energy drink.
Sword Master is out on DVD now.
Dir: Tung-Shing Yee
Scr: Tin Nam Chun, Hark Tsui, Tung-Shing Yee
Cast: Kenny Lin, Peter Ho, Yiyan Jiang
Prd: Hark Tsui
DOP: Chi-Ying Chan, Wai-Nin Chan
Music: Peter Kam
Runtime: 108 mins