12:00 - 23rd November 2014, by Calum Waddell

The Sword Identity

The problem with a 12-rated, and thus deliberately ‘softcore’, martial arts swashbuckler is, well, the inevitable lack of viciously exciting set pieces, and arterial geysers. This factor, unfortunately, is why The Sword Identity (which was initially released in 2011) fails to captivate.

Director Xu Haofeng, who wrote Wong Kar Wai’s The Grandmaster, sets his story during the 16th century, when the Ming Dynasty ruled China, and his attention to period detail is certainly solid. Praise is also warranted for the director’s stark, minimalist visuals – a wise approach given the film’s notably low budget. Moreover, the cast and costumes are, likewise, generally up-to-par. What lets The Sword Identity down, though, is just a general lack of ‘oomph’. Headlining the film is Song Yang – a newcomer to the screen – who portrays a hardened warrior called Liang. Based in the Chinese mainland, Liang has to face-off against some rival martial arts schools. So far so straightforward, but our hero also has to justify his use of weaponry – in particular (and as the title suggests) his ever-present sword, which his opponents associate with Japanese pirates. There is some humour involved in this story but, generally, The Sword Identity is far too meandering for its own good. Haofeng builds up Liang well (suitably emphasising his slightly mysterious ‘lone wolf’ status) – and the various interacting characters move the narrative forward slowly but surely. Yet, this restrained historical adventure really needs an injection of life to it, because, as it stands, the sword in question just doesn’t have enough power behind its blade.

Decent-looking but drab martial arts mania – of interest for Ming Dynasty historians, perhaps, but a curious commercial prospect for anyone else…
SCORE: 2.5/5
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