Friday, October 27, 2006

[1980] THE SWORD: Really fantastic swordplay movie from Patrick Tam (his first.) It's all about the cost of ambition, as symbolized by the Chi Mud--a sword made by evil men, and Swordmaster Wah has been told to throw it away. But he just can't--it's never quite explained why he has the sword in the first place, but we can imagine the process of acquiring it meant something to him. He gives it to a friend for safekeeping (girlfriend? concubine? I have no idea what the culturally specific relationship is) and goes into seclusion. He is the best swordsman in the land, after all, and everybody wants to fight the best. But the sword becomes his downfall and that of many others. I mean, the Chi Mud doesn't like possess people or something, there's little of the supernatural in this film. It's a symbol, like I said, of Wah's ambition (that he's still holding onto, even in retirement) and the guy who just wants one fight with Wah, Li (Adam Cheng.) And Wah's daughter is running around the film, causing trouble or looking for vengeance, and a pretty one-dimensional villain (in the sense that he never reflects upon why he wants what he wants--he's your usual nakedly power-hungry antagonist) manipulating things in the background, who's married to Li's childhood sweetheart. And of course he's a crappy husband. So you have all these interwoven character dynamics and the film just winds them up and then presses go and we speed to the bittersweet conclusion. Suffice it to say Li gets what he wants--or what he thought he had wanted--and it's all sorts of awful. Without giving away how, he has the Chi Mud in the end; his last act is pitching it over a cliff, which would be my one quibble with the film--it redeems him a little too much; better the freezeframe happen a few seconds before, him with the sword in hand, deciding whether to throw it or not. This is a really lovely film from the early days of the Hong Kong renaissance--Wikipedia says Patrick Tam was part of the "Hong Kong New Wave," which is not a term I'm that familiar with (but it includes Tsui and Ann Hui--again, according to Wikipedia) but apparently this film (and Tam) were an early part of the transforming Hong Kong cinema of the 80s and 90s. As Mark Pollard says in his review, "Patrick influenced HK cinema by pushing for higher standards and combining modern film techniques with traditional Chinese sensibilities." Even from the start, apparently (and now I understand better why it was a big deal that he came out of retirement to do a new film this year.) Great stuff, definitely check it out if you're a Hong Kong fan. I'd recommend it for everybody, but I know there are those who don't like Hong Kong tropes (wires, a bit of sentiment, swordplay in general.) This one hit me just right.

No comments: