Saturday, June 2, 2012

Swordsman And Enchantress (1978)

Director: Chor Yuen
Notable Cast: Ti Lung, Ching Li, Liu Yung, Candy Wen Hsueh-erh

Although I'm fairly new to the Chor Yuen films in the Shaw Brothers collection (mostly thanks to Well Go USA for finally getting them releases in the U.S. in those beautiful Celestial remasters), the epic swordplay and twisting plots are starting to grab me...or rather the more straightforward and character driven "Swordsman And Enchantress" clicks more with my preferences. Either way, I simply enjoyed the hell out of this film. Despite some flaws in flow and storytelling, the charisma of Ti Lung really catches the film and sends it moving into tons of fantastic fight sequences and perhaps one of the most bizarre third act twists known to film history.

 The illustrious Deer Cutting Sword. Rumor has it that the weapon can cut through anything and that all fighters would bow to whomever carried the fabled weapon. It's creator, Tian, has decided to bestow the sword to the fighting world's best swordsman Lian (Liu Yung). That is until it is stolen in transit by a vicious young woman (Candy Wen Hsueh-erh) claiming to be the master fighting hermit Xiao. In an attempt to clear his name, Xiao (Ti Lung) takes his might beard and spear out into the fighting world...

"Concerned? Why should I be with such a mighty beard?"
"Swordsman And Enchantress" has just enough cliche martial arts elements to keep fans happy, but it likes to push further into character development and interactions then most Shaw films. Not that it always works (we'll get to that), but it's an admirable choice that lends itself to some unique moments in the film. Chor Yuen has the film start off like most martial arts films of this era, focusing on themes of betrayal, misunderstanding, and honor as we see shit hit the fan. He sets up this wonderful look to the film (he loves those over the shoulder or under the armpit shots doesn't he?) with these massive sets and beautiful woodsy colors and then does something fairly unusual...he takes the romantic subplot and pushes it to the forefront. With this delightful little 'love diddy' that plays in these moments, he takes the charming Ti Lung and Ching Li and really builds them together. Focusing on their character development (some of which is through some good solid fight sequences with particular nod to Lung and his spear work), he takes this film to some deeper levels than expected.

Chor Yuen always did build epic set pieces.
Although the storytelling here seems to leap forward and sometimes rush the romantic plot a bit to get all the details one needs for later on, Yuen does an admirable job making it feel more fulfilling than it probably is. Unfortunately, this is for the first two-thirds of the film.

At the final act, "Swordsman And Enchantress" takes one of the strangest plot twists ever. Upon escaping more assassins (which they do quite often in this film) our two love birds stumble upon an odd house in the woods. Not to give too much away, but let's just say it takes a wicked 180 into some fantasy elements, throws in a plethora of new characters, and then caps it off with so many double agent spins that your head might aptly explode. Although the finale fight is one to be remember with all of its twists and turns, it certainly comes straight out of the blue to give one a punch in the jacobs. It almost feels like a completely separate film at this point and really disturbs the flow and storytelling of the film.

This is where the film goes bat shit crazy with fantasy elements.
"Swordsman And Enchantress" is still a strong film at it's core. It's romantic plot and strong leads help earn merit in the first portions when the film gets a bit too cheesy, but the oddity of its third act makes this film hard to claim as one of Chor Yuen's best. Shaw fans will find all the elements they love: sword battles, epic characters, a plot of honor and revenge...but the fantasy elements that end the film with wicked bright colors and odd settings (an ice room? Really?!) undermine the experience as a whole.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

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