Seven Swords is the latest picture from the legendary Tsui Hark, writer/director/producer of the classic Zu Warriors From Magic Mountain, Once Upon A Time In China and A Chinese Ghost Story. It features a largely unknown cast apart from Donnie Yen (Dragon Sword) and follows the adventures of seven swordsmen, as they battle against an evil warlord.

Based on the novel Seven Swordsmen From Tian Mountain by Yusheng Liang, the obvious parallel is with Seven Samurai. However, it would appear that the differences are such that if this is intended as a Chinese version of Kurosawa's film, it fails.

The pacing is flabby, with a whole middle section so dull I found myself fighting to stay awake. There is some action dotted around that is competently done, although lacks freshness. Hark does not appear to have evolved past the stunt choreography of Once Upon A Time In China, only without Jet Li to sell it.

The story barely makes sense, with a clumsy love interest jammed in for no good reason, other than an excuse for Dragon Sword to get a bit miffed when it all goes tragically wrong, as if we couldn't see it coming. What is worse is that we are introduced to characters with weird names, such as Transience Sword and Monkey Peach Slapper Sword, or something like that - I admit I was beginning to lose the will to care at this point - but are given no time to form any kind of empathy. A pale attempt to help us engage is offered towards the climactic scene, when we are treated to 30 seconds of montage about them. To call these characters one-dimensional is to give them altogether too much credit.

The bad guy is reasonably well portrayed, but as villains go, he is just too feeble. His scary, anachronistically leather-clad sidekick, known as Goth Chick, is more convincing. At least, she leads the armies, as opposed to sitting about at the back at the stronghold, fooling around with female prisoners. He is such a wimp that the aforementioned Goth Chick should have long ago given him a good slap and sent him to bed without any supper.

Despite this, the film is not entirely without merit. Despite being very conservative, the fight scenes are interesting and the lack of unnecessary CGI refreshing, at least. Yen is suitably charismatic, as The Good Guy, and there is a very engaging performance by an actress whose resemblance to a young Maggie Cheung is uncanny - alas, I am unable to identify her, as there were technical difficulties at the beginning of the film during the credits.

Seven Swords is like the films we used to watch 10 years ago and, while this is not necessarily a bad thing, it is rather disappointing. Any action movie that has me dozing during the middle section has to be doing something wrong.

Reviewed on: 25 Feb 2006
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A 17th century band of swordsmen defend villagers from murderous gang
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Richard Mellor **1/2

Director: Tsui Hark

Writer: Chi-Sing Cheung, Tin Nam Chun. Tsui Hark, based on the novel by Yusheng Liang

Starring: Leon Lai, Charlie Yeung, Donnie Yen, Liwu Dai, Michael Wong, Jinghu Zhang, Duncan Lai, Yi Lu

Year: 2005

Runtime: 153 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: South Korea/Hong Kong/China


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