In the 1660s, the merciless Qing Dynasty is at an end, and the new Emperor Ming has decreed that martial arts practice is forbidden, and those refusing or caught practising are to be beheaded. Mercenary Fire-Wind and his motley crew of face-painted warlords scour the land capturing towns and villages and, proclaiming them all to be practitioners of the forbidden martial arts, behead them all and collect their bounty.
One martial arts master thwarts Fire-Wind, defeating some of his lieutenants and successfully defending one particular village. Fearing a fearsome counterattack, he takes two strong minded villagers and heads to the hills of Mount Heaven to seek the legendary Seven Swords' help in defending the village. This is, of course, a plot very similar to the original Kusawa 'Seven Samurai', or perhaps the better know 'Magnificent Seven', a style of film now often used in many genres.
From the start, the tone is set. After a very brief introduction, we are met the ferocity of some of Fire-Wind's lieutenants. The film also states its intentions on being somewhat graphic with some of these battle scenes, as we are submitted to some of the horrors of the massacres the mercenary's followers are responsible for. But this is a film about heroes, and the large middle section of the film goes some way to developing the seven warriors who agree to defend the village from such a fearsome foe. There is an attempt at developing a love triangle, with two women falling for the same man, but where the immediate unrequited love persists with one woman, all interest in then lost for the viewer with the other, the love story becoming a clear second fiddle to the action element and seeming rather pointless in a way.
The characters are not that easily identifiable, if I'm honest. The visual tone of the film is very dusty, almost sepia in appearance, and the clothing and age of the male warriors is very similar. The action scenes dfon't always feature the faces of the protagonists much either, so you really have to concentrate on who is who at what stage. This is exacerbated by the need to be following the subtitles throughout as well. Seven Swords is a Chinese film and the original language is used. While I much prefer this as I think dubbing and translation are often shoddy, it does present issues such as character confusion. The subtitles use the translated names of the warriors as sword wielders (such as Celestial Beam and Transcience) while the dialogue uses the names of the characters instead. This is also confusing.
But I really enjoyed it. There's a hint of betrayal, some phenomenal imagination with the original book author's concept of the swords having their own characteristics, and some exhilarating actions scenes. Much of it is done with wires, but this is managed seamlessly, and while other films with flowing cloaks would have sleeves distorted as indicators, this film has no indicators other than the suspension of belief when it comes to the physicality of some of the fight scenes.
The plot has the occasional flashback, and this is usually so interwoven with the present plot that if you aren't completely focusing then again, because of the colouring, it's hard to realise it's a flashback. After the first couple of these happen (which is quite early on) then you get used to it, but it still remains noticeable and when your eyes have to keep darting to and fro with the screen and the subtitles, you could lose the thread somewhat. I was able to maintain the story and completely understood, but it was only towards the end that I could tell the characters apart comfortably.
Overall, this is a very well worked film, and I thoroughly enjoyed nearly all of it. It is rather long, and I do feel that the screenplay could have left out the love story quite comfortably. If felt somewhat out of place and increased the running time significantly. Great film though.
What better to cheer the boys up in the winter than a good old martial arts movie! The clunk of metal on metal and the smack of foot on guts, sending a poor extra through the scenery always does it for me, the 'Asian Extreme' scene never failing to deliver in the genre. Ok, I always research the foreign movies I watch and so rarely disappointed but the Asian movie scene is on the up right now and again does the business with this, 'The Seven Swords', yet another hybrid of Akira Kurosawa`s classic, The Seven Samurai. If you throw in a liberal sprinkling of that magic kung fu powder that allows people to run up walls and bounce of the dirt then you are set for some serious sword fighting, mythical butt kicking action. None of that pansy running over tree top nonsense here! Wirework is substituted for acrobatics and even Jacky Chan would be proud of some of the athletic stunts and balletic fights on show here. Sometimes you need the basics and don't want to think too much and a good old sword romp is the way to go!
Donnie Yen ... Chu Zhao Nan
Leon Lai ... Yang Yun Chong
Charlie Yeung ... Wu Yuan Yin
Liwu Dai ... Xin Long Zi
Chia-Ling Liu ... Fu Qing Ju
Duncan Lai ... Mulang
Yi Lu ... Han Zhi Ban
Jingwu Ma ... Master Shadow-Glow
Jason Pai Piao ... Liu Jingyi
Honglei Sun ... Fire-wind
Michael Wong ... Prince Dokado
Jingchu Zhang ... Liu Yufang
Its 1660s China and Emperor Ming has just ended the brutal Qing Dynasty, issuing an edict that all martial arts are now banned and anyone caught practicing the ancient fighting practices are deemed a threat to the new kingdom and so will lose their heads.
The size of the task is a big one so the Emperor subsidizes his forces with brutal mercenaries, paid 300 pieces of silver per severed head of the offenders. But it soon becomes graphically clear that the mercenaries are the bad guys, and like Blackwater in Iraq, hack of just about anyone's head to increase their rewards.
A veteran of the war, Fire-Wind (Honglei Sun ), sees this bounty as an opportunity to make lots of money from those heads, soon running out of rebel villages to lay waste to, so deciding to attack the remaining outpost for one last big payday to feed his gangs growing bloodlust. And because the Emperor trusts that all the decapitations are legit the money is rolling in like the severed heads are into the bloody collection baskets.
But one man is fighting back, Nan (Donnie Yen), able to kill a couple of the evil gang of cutthroats with his martial arts skills, before being badly inured, fleeing to the hills with the help of a couple of recruits from the latest pillaged village to fall to Fire Wind, Wu Yuanyin (Charlie Young) and Han Zhibeng happy to help defeat this growing evil. But its not just any hills but 'Mount Heaven', there to ask for the help of the mythical Seven Swords, blades forged from the four elements with seven different qualities, and with the skills of incumbent mountain warriors, Chu Zhaonan (Chia-Ling Liu), Yang Yunchong (Wu Yuan Yin), 'Mulang' (Duncan Lai) and Xin Longzi (Yi Lu), all agree to help stop Fire-Wind, their anger honed like their tempered blades in the raging fire for battle and revenge, Nan and his two companions taking the other three swords to make the last stand at the outpost...
Chop Suey Westerns are always fun, this joining the likes of Crouching Tiger and Hero in evoking classic martial arts cinema. Clearly the seven horsemen [and women] is nothing new, but the screenplays stunning palette, the historic detail, and the exhilarating action scenes make you take notice of that well trodden cliché and revel in it. With a hint of the supernatural and some superb fight scenes you are gripped from the opening battle and never let go. Even though there's a token love interest going on that's integral to the story the action doesn't let up to have time for you to be distracted by that. Nope, the sparks are flying off the swords not the love scenes, somersaulting heroes battling with all dressed in black bad guys like it should always be, the goodies coming up trumps with increasingly gruesome and sometimes comical ways to dispatch them.
Martial arts fans will love this, as will foreign movie fans. It's not dumb in anyway and very thorough in authenticity and approach, the dialogue as traditionally chunky as the broad sword fights. If you like this sort of thing then this is the sort of thing you will like. Great Chinese cinema for that cold winter's day a coming. It is subtitles though, be it pithy ones, and at 140 minutes you will need some biscuits and a cuppa.
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Imdb.com scores it 6.2 out of 10.0 (3,816)
RuN-TiMe 2hrs 20 minutes
Not to graphic so for young adults and up
Blockbusters: 3 for £6 weekly deal section
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This 2005 offering adapted from the book 'Seven Swordsmen from Mount Heaven' by Liang Yu-Sheng was recommended to me by my former Tai Chi instructor. Having enjoyed recent Chinese Martial Arts films that crossed over to the UK cinema such as 'Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon' and 'House of Flying Daggers' I was keen to watch this, but had missed it at the cinema.
As the film starts we are informed that Martial Arts in fifteenth century China has been outlawed and the punishment for breaking this law is decapitation. A gang of bad guys in armour, face paint and with some interesting weaponry, are greedy for the rewards on offer and have been killing whole villages, including children and old folk, on instruction of their leader Fire-Wind. However, former executioner-turned-good-guy Fu has been stealing the name plaques from the dead and getting on their nerves. They give chase to him and he meets and is helped by (and in turn helps) pretty villager Yuanyin and returns with her to Martial Village, supposedly the next place on the bandits' list with many coveted heads. Because of his past Fu is imprisoned by the village but Yuanyin trusts him and enables the help of her friend Fang and Fang's boyfriend Han to free him. Whilst Fang stays to take the fall for the group (she is the chief's daughter, so they assume she won't get into too much trouble), Han and Yuanyin go with Fu to Mount Heaven and Master Shadow-Glow for his help.
Shadow-Glow has four disciples, although we only really meet Chu Zhaonan (Dragon Sword), no other swordsmen are explored; we just have a cursory introduction to them. I assume they each have their own stories and that the book has more detail, but as most of the characters are not given any depth anyway you don't miss much. Shadow-Glow then gives the Heaven's Fall sword to Yuanyin and the Deity sword to Han and thus they and Fu make up the seven swordsmen and they return to the village to help defend them from Fire-Wind's imminent attacks and to help the villagers flee.
There are three main big fight sequences in this film, and whilst all impressive not as jaw-dropping at 'Flying Daggers' or 'Crouching Tiger'. My favourite scene was towards the end when Chu and Fire-Wind are fighting in a narrow passage and climbing the walls. There is a bit of token romance as Chu frees Fire-Wind's beloved slave Green Pearl and some token suspense when it is revealed that the villagers have a spy in their midst.
No great acting skill is required of much of the cast with the emphasis on the fight scenes. I enjoyed the performance of Hong-Lei Sun who played Fire-wind. He did the evil general well, and I understood his captivation with Green Pearl rather than Chu's. He had one of the better fight scenes and the most interesting dialogue, such as it was. Dialogue was minimal, as was plot. The music by Kenji Kawaii is very appropriate and full of sweeping and dramatic strings. My one real issue was with the idea to not always feature on screen the person speaking but to show someone else. This is particularly annoying in the beginning when you haven't worked out who is who, and don't recognize voices. Also a lot of the scenes are shot at night and the lighting is inadequate to reveal which swordsman you have been given a fleeting glimpse of.
Overall I enjoyed this film, but it does not pass muster against the inevitable comparisons to 'Flying Daggers' or 'Crouching Tiger', and would recommend it more to existing fans of the genre rather than as an introduction.
Director - Hark Tsui
Yuanyin - Charlie Yeung
Chu Zhaonan - Donnie Yen
Han - Yi Lu
Fu - Chia-Liang Lu
Fang -Jinchu Zhang
Shadow-Glow - Jingwu Ma
Fire-wind - Honglei Sun
Green Pearl - So-Yeon Kim
Chinese Translation: Chat Gim
The film had a running time of just less than two and a half hours and has a 15 certificate due to the violence (which is not really offensive, if you are squeamish).
hina in the 17th Century. A new law decrees all martial arts illegal, punishment of death. A group of soldiers travel the country seeking out those who would flout the law. A swordsman and his disciples decide to take the fight to the enemy, following a plea from a group of villagers.