Review: Seven Swords (2005)
starring Donnie Yen and Lau Kar Leung
Fight Choreography by Lau Kar Leung
Directed by Tsui Hark
Seven Swords is a return to form of sorts for Tsui Hark after a bevy of misfires, and the film features fights choreographed by one of the best in Hong Kong, but many of the problems that Tsui Hark’s films have follows him into this film, and not the best efforts of Donnie Yen and the other actors can cover them up. The problem here is they have a template for a story that’s worked before, but Tsui Hark fumbles the results.
The film is about a group of seven swordsmen, each carrying a powerful sword that have special abilities , and find themselves protecting a small village from an oppressive warlord named Fire Wind who means to destroy it. Sounds familiar? The Seven Samurai and The Magnificent Seven have the exact same plots, and pulled them off to perfection.
After a massecre of martial artists in a town nearby, a former executioner under the previous ruler now makes amends by stealing the death tags the soldiers place on the bodies of the wanted so they can collect a reward, but finds himself injured and take to the village where most of the film takes place. After finding out that their village was next on Fire Wind’s to do list, Yuan Jin, a local woman who is head strong, and her former boyfriend Han agree to take the General to Mount Heaven, where the other swordsmen live. Little do Yuan and Han know that there are actually only five swordsmen, and they are the other two. The movie gives not damn reason at all for why this is. Just, here’s some badass swords, now go with these expert fighters and try not to get killed on the way! A meteor falls and strikes the earth on their way to the mountain, and we’re told it’s important with no explanation why it is! Soon the Seven Swords return to the Village and find themselves getting involved in the village politics as well as one of their own swordsmen (Donnie Yen) getting involved with Fire Wind’s “woman”, and before long the rest of the Seven swords go to face Firewind to get their friend back and finish the fight once and for all…
I have to say that FireWind and his cronies are one fucked up group of individuals. I mean crackerjack crazy, like a bunch of Jack Nicholsons circa The Shining who all know kung-fu! We don’t know why they’re so nuts, but they are, and herein lies my main problem with Tsui Hark. He wants us to fill in the blanks way too much, and let’s plots dangle in the air for all eternity. There’ s a scene in the film where the Emperor’s men find an ancient sword that’s supposed to be the greatest sword of all…and I shit you not that’s it. The plot disappears and never returns.
Something else that comes and goes is Donnie Yen. He’s on the DVD covers, but don’t let that fool you. He’s not really the star of the film, just a name to add to the marquee. He basically serves as a plot device to get the characters from one place to another, and a storyline about a romance he has with Fire Wind’s woman goes nowhere. Donnie gets maybe two fight scenes, and they are short ones at that. Donnie pretty much collected a paycheck for this one.
Another crazy scene is when Han has to let his horse Joy Luck go for reasons I still don’t think make a damn lick of sense, and we are treated to four minutes of this damn horse walking across what must be all of China. He goes to the mountains. The plains. The rocky terrain, all the while looking for Han. It felt like a Disney nature flick, planted right in the middle of a martial arts film! Tsui Hark tries too hard to place drama in places that didn’t need it, and most of them go nowhere. This film almost feels like Tsui is saying, “ If Ang Lee and Zhang Yimou can do it, I can do it better!”
The problem is, he can’t.
(On a scale of 1-10, 10 being the best)
CHOREOGRAPHY: (7) The fights are good here, but not the greatness that I was expecting, and I expected more of them that what we actually got. This film won the Golden Horse awards in China for best fight choreography, but I don’t see it.
STUNTS: (8) The stunts wire work was pretty good, and everyone did what was needed, but it was not much to speak of here.
STAR POWER: (6) Donnie Yen and Lar Kar Leung are the only notables here, but Donnie really fells more like an extended cameo. His character seems to be there only to allow the Seven Swords to have their final battle with Fire Wind.
FINAL GRADE: (7) Not a bad film, but Tsui Hark’s trademark flimsy to nonsensical plots get in the way too much. The fights were good looking but really didn’t contain any substance for me, just like the rest of this film.