09:00 - 14th April 2013, by David West

Seven Swords

Seventeenth Century China. A ruthless general called Fire-wind is slaughtering people indiscriminately in the name of an Imperial edict banning martial arts. In his path lies Martial Village, where the residents learn of their impending doom from a former executioner, Fu Qingzhu. Fu convinces two villagers to take him to Mount Heaven to ask Master Shadow-Glow for help and the sword-maker dispatches four of his pupils to defend the farmers. With Fu and the two villagers, they are the Seven Swords, all that stands between Fire-wind and the annihilation of Martial Village.

Seven Swords is a spectacular return to form for Tsui Hark, director of Once Upon A Time In China, after a series of stinkers in the late-1990s. The story is adapted from Liang Yusheng's novel Seven Swords from Mount Heaven, published in the 1970s. The film references Kurosawa's Seven Samurai, with a village, facing extinction, enlisting a handful of warriors to protect it. Fu Qingzhu, played by Lau Kar Leung, is cut from the same cloth as Kambei, the leader of the samurai played by Takashi Shimura, while the raid on Fire-wind's lair is analogous to the attack on the bandit camp in Kurosawa's film.

That said, Tsui brings freshness and considerable excitement to his tale. The cast are uniformly excellent, including Donnie Yen and Leon Lai as the two lead warriors. Charlie Young is terrific as Wu Yuanyin, a peasant girl who becomes one of the Seven Swords after receiving a particularly perplexing weapon from Master Shadow-Glow. Her journey of self-discovery is beautifully realised and one of the most satisfying elements in the entire picture. Sun Hong-lei, who plays Fire-Wind, is a compelling villain with a rasping laugh worthy of Dick Dastardly's dog Muttley.
Shot on location in northwest China, the film looks spectacular, going from snowbound Mount Heaven to the Gobi desert. There is plenty of action, although occasionally the editing of the fight scenes is obtrusive in the manner of American films where the editing obscures, rather than showcases, the choreography.
Seven Swords is one of Tsui's best films and sets a new standard in martial arts movies that will be hard to surpass.

SCORE: 5/5
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