Director: Tsui Hark
Stars: Zhao Wen-Zhou, Hung Yan-Yan
An apprentice blade maker, On (Zhao), finds the truth about his past after bandits raid the local village. He decides to strike out after the tattooed villain (Hung) who killed his father, but loses his arm after being attacked by the bandits. After being nursed back to health, On finds a half-burned kung fu instruction book and, along with his father's broken sword, creates an unstoppable fighting style which he uses to continue his quest.
On the surface, The Blade is yet another version of the popular "one-armed" kung fu subgenre. But, really, it is closer in tone to the films of Wong Kar-Wai or Akira Kurosawa, where the story is more of a backdrop for a character study. This is hard territory to create a film around, as it can quickly delve into uninteresting, talky drivel.
Though many have tried, very few directors can pull this type of film off successfully. Tsui Hark does. He creates a world in The Blade that is so fascinating to watch that I didn't mind that there was more talking than fighting. The film just looks fabulous, with lovely, fluid camera work and interesting lighting. The set design is also great, particularly the bamboo bandits' camp, which is put to great use in one of the film's key action sequences. The Blade proves that you don't need tens of millions of dollars of digital effects to make a great-looking movie. Even though the actors tend to be uneven at times, going from almost woodeness to overacting, all of the performances are solid overall and add to the strength of the movie. One thing that really helps is that each character is allowed their own space within the story. This "breathing room" allows the characters to be able both as individuals and as a group, unlike many ensemble movies where characters are sometimes literally yelling over each other at times.
Tsui did not skimp on the action either. Even though some people may be disappointed (this is no Iron Monkey with crazy wire fu all over the place), The Blade sports some fine fight sequences. The final one is particularly breathtaking, with On using his unique fighting style coupled with a really cool sword/chain weapon taking on the villain who sports a three-bladed sword.
If you have a good attention span and want something to think about, check out The Blade. It's a thinking person's martial arts movie.
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