13th Apr2017

Review Round-Up: ‘Three’ & ‘Sword Master’

by Phil Wheat

THREE

three-cast

Stars: Louis Koo, Wei Zhao, Wallace Chung, Siu-Fai Cheung, Suet Lam, Hoi-Pang Lo, Michael Tse, Adrian Wong, Kathy Wu | Written by Ho Leung Lau, Tin Shu Mak | Directed by Johnnie To

When a cop, a wounded crime boss and a doctor are thrown together in the hustle and bustle of an emergency room, a hospital descends from a pristine sanctuary to an explosive battleground. Bullets fly in a when the crime boss’s gang turn up to try and rescue him, and the cop must prevent innocent lives from being caught in the crossfire.

Johnny To’s hospital-set thriller is a Die Hard-esque tale that instantly recalls the John Woo classic Hard Boiled and yet is in no way similar in story and action. Like a number of his films before this, To takes his time building his film – introducing  his characters, exploring their motivations etc. – before finally getting down to the core of the action. Which means for those looking for instant action gratification, this is NOT the obvious choice.

To’s signatures are all over this film: especially in how the action is laced with high drama – to the point where the film crosses fully into into suspense thriller territory rather than action film. And in much the same way as the likes of Election, To’s choices – be they camera angle, pacing, audio – is deliberate throughout Three. So much so that it seems, at times, To is crafting a film that wants to constantly rack up the tension rather than tell a story; which becomes frustrating for the audience.

And that’s the thing. To obviously set out to create a film that would hold the audiences attention until the fateful climax. But his stylistic choices ultimately end up working against that goal. Something of a misfire from the man who brought us the awesome Breaking News (my personal favourite of his oeuvre).

SWORD MASTER

SwordMaster-image

Stars: Kenny Lin, Peter Ho, Yiyan Jiang, Mengjie Jiang, Moyan Chen, Norman Chu | Written by Derek Yee, Tsui Hark, Tin Nam Chun | Directed by Derek Yee

Directed by Derek Yee and produced by the legendary Tsui Hark, Sword Master is an old school wuxia action adventure – a remake of the Shaw Brothers classic Death Duel (which starred Yee, kick-starting his acting career), brought into the 21st Century; featuring spectacular action and stunning visuals that combine CGI, wire work and classic martial arts stuntwork to perfection!

The film sees powerful swordsman haunted by the destructive impact his deadly talents have on others. Weary of the bloodshed and violence from the martial arts world, he takes on the humble life a vagrant, wandering the fringes of society. But his violent past refuses to let him go, and the swordsman must regain the ability to wield his sword and fight those disrupting the peace he so desperately craves.

Sword Master is a strange film. Not in terms of the story, which is very much in the classic martial arts wheelhouse, but in its look. On the one hand the film aethstetic is very much set in the 60 and 70s Shaw Brothers era of wuxia; on the other, the film is filled with modern-day stunt techniques and computer generated imagery. It’s a dichotomy which can be hard to look past – but if you do you’ll find a kick-ass kung-fu flick that is as stylish and stunning as the old-school film it emulates.

One of the few remakes that builds, and improves, on the original, Sword Master is out in the UK now.
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Both Three and Sword Master are both available on DVD now from Kaleidoscope Home Entertainment.

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