Starring Kenny Lin, Peter Ho, Norman Chu, Mengji Jiang
Fight Choreography by Dion Lam and Bun Yuen
Directed by Derek Yee
Director Derek Yee ( The ORIGINAL Third Master) returns to one of his classic Shaw Brothers films, this time not as an actor, but as the director of the remake. Toss in the great Norman Chu, as well as Tsui Hark producing, and you’d think this is a classic in the making.
Except it isn’t. Not even close.
The film (as did the original) tells the story of Hsieh Shao-Feng (Lin), also known as Third Master, one of the greatest swordsmen of all time, who seeks a life of anonymity and peace, which is immediately threatened by a former lover who wants revenge, the leaders of a local cult of thugs who harass the village he’s hiding in, and first and foremost the assassin Yen Shisan (Ho), another swordman who wishes to challenge Shao-Feng as the greatest swordsman of all time, but before they can fight, they may have to form an alliance to keep the village safe as well as Shao-Feng’s true love…
This plot sounds the same as the original, right? Not a chance. The story in this version is a gutless movie compared to the original, particularly the ending, which is maddening in its insistence of keeping thing bright so the hero can have a straightforward hollywood “happy” ending. That’s right: If you expect the ending of the original Death Duel, you are sorely mistaken. The film just doesn’t have the “bite” of the original, yet sticks too much to the original story to be its own thing. Derek Yee can’t seem to make up his mind what he wanted the remake to be: a straightforward remake, or just using the bones to tell a different kind of story. The actors do a fine job, but there is no standout–except for Norman Chu, who brings a regalness and sense of character to Shao-Feng’s father.
The story itself doesn’t take the time to garner real sympathy for any of the characters, nor does it develop the villain in any substantial way. When the enemy finally reveals themselves, it elicits more of a shrug than anything else, not to mention the film commits a cardinal sin: it has the villains dispatch each other rather than the hero having much to do with it. A film hero should be the lever that moves the action and plot, not standing by while the story resolves itself in front of them. The special effects are good in most places, but the problem is there is too many of them replacing practical sets and real locations, with the exception of two fight scenes: the one where Yen Shihan enters the brothel, which is fairly well done and shot, and toward the end, where Shao-Feng’s father and his guards ward off an initial attack from the main villains. Outside of that, the fights are typical Wuxia “meh”. It wants to be House of Flying Daggers or Hero but winds up being…a lot less.
Swordsman just disappoints on so many levels. The talent involved should have knocked this out of the park. Skip this film and watch the original Death Duel.
Kiai-Kick’s Grade: 5.0
The Swordmaster needs to head back to school for more lessons in what the term “Heroic Bloodshed” means. The film commits the high-wire crime of being simply average and forgettable.
In fact, here is the trailer to the original. Your welcome.