07th Sep2014

‘The Sword Identity’ Review

by Phil Wheat

Stars: Yang Song, Yu Chenghui, Yuanyuan Zhao, Ma Jun, Xu Fujing, Ma Ke, Zhexin Liu, Yao Weiping, Ou Keqin, Li Guisheng, Bing Bo | Written and Directed by Haofeng Xu

Sword-Identity

Haofeng Xu, writer of the still-to-be-released (at least in the UK) The Grandmaster, makes his directorial debut with The Sword Identity, a Chinese martial arts film adapted from his own novel.

During the Ming dynasty, four fighting schools exist in the city of Guancheng and anyone who wishes to set up a new establishment must prove their worth in battle. When Liang Henlu (Yang Song) tries to form a fifth school so he can pass on his master’s teachings, the martial arts masters mistake his sword for a forbidden Japanese weapon and believe him to be a pirate. After witnessing the power of the sword in combat, however, they begin to realise it could be the legendary weapon that was used by Liang’s now deceased general to defeat the invading Japanese forces.

The Sword Identity is an odd film. Epic in ideas, small in execution, the film feels less like a traditional movie and more like a filmed stage play. Characters move in highly-stylised fashion and the fight scenes are not the action-packed melees that audiences have come to expect, more like hyper-choreographed dance routines. It doesn’t help that writer/director Xu makes the odd choice to film a lot of the sword fighting in close-ups! And there’s some ridiculous broad comedy that doesn’t translate as well as it could have – although to be fair, the Chinese penchant for bizarre near-slapstick often doesn’t.

Having not seen The Grandmaster there’s no way I can compare Xu’s script work, however one must hope that Wong Kar Wai has made something more of Haofeng Xu’s work than Xu himself has here – the use of muted colours, flat and stilted direction do nothing for this film. In all honesty there’s probably some true historical significance to The Sword Identity, but unless you have a deep-seated interest in, and vast knowledge of, Chinese history I’m guessing you’ll be just as bemused as I was.

The Sword Identity is released on DVD tomorrow, September 8th.

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