Once again I fell for cool posters & stills that promised something far finer than was delivered. Seven Swords (Chat gim, 2005) begins with such naturalistic & gorgeous settings that momentarily one hopes Seven Swords is authentically going to be a worthy homage to Seven Samurai & not Tsui Hark's usual cartoon carnival.
Now if flash & carnage are your primary delight, & you've no use for sensible storytelling, there's a lot to like in Seven Swords.
Otherwise, the opening nod toward realism will all too soon be displaced by punk rock girl-villain & weapons that more resemble flying garbage disposals than anything that would actually function.
An imperial decree against the practice of martial arts, punishable by death, is enforced by a gang of thugs led by the punk rock swordswoman.
These psycho thugs serve a goony general who considers this situation a good way to make some extra money, absurdly enough. All plot elements should be concluded with the phrase "absuredly enough."
The bad guys go about the countryside abusing their authority while displaying ridiculous hair-dos, elaborate clown make-up, comic book weapons that defy the laws of physics. The fate of all China hinges miraculously on events in one small location. How? Why? Improbably. No reason.
Seven heroic warriors -- the seventh in Toshiro Mifune's place is a slip of a girl -- join forces to protect a fortressed village. As they suffer & experience romance, betrayal, & personal angst, the situations are so crazy that it's like watching nutters feeling bad because the world is made of cheese & they can't stop the mice from eating it all up.
Anyone with a lick of sense would want to shake the hell out them telling them, "No, the world is not made of cheese, stop worrying about that." It's hard to imagine how even the most die-hard fans of Tsui Hark can mistake any of it for drama.
The story will enthrall any brain-addled moron with the attention span of a gnat. It's such a shame to see these talented actors batted about in a film whose situations & background stories come off not as character & event, but as part of the kind of world-building one does for role-playing games.
The fictional scenarios are likewise open-ended updates of Dungeons & Dragons bound to generate endless play (or sequels) rather than tell a splendid story with beginning, middle, & end.
Will Tsui Hark fans agree it's all that bad? Would gnats? Of course not. If he can hold on to a fan base after his justified humiliation in Hollywood, his return home with tail between his legs only to make further extravaganzas of exaggerated nonsense, well, if that was appealling, Seven Swords at least has a gaudy visual beauty his films had come to lack.
Hark always claimed the visual component of his films was the most significant & promoted each film in turn as a visual success. This time, for the first time, the visual component is worthy of his self-important boats.
His films had gotten to the point where they looked like they were designed by a slightly clever ten year old boy on his home computer, but now he's reverted to something that almost looks like a good story could happen in that environment, though a good story doesn't quite occur.
Yet assessed as "nothing but a live-action cartoon" with no greater expectation, it could well be the live-action cartoon Tsui Hark has been trying to make all along.
Unless in the future, by eerie good luck, he steeps himself in cinema verite & decides in old age to become a neo-realist of medieval fictions, then he will probably never make a better film than this awful one. For it does achieve a greater visual credibility than his comic book scenarios have reached before.
copyright © by Paghat the Ratgirl