Monday, May 25, 2015

Sword and the Lute, The (1967)

Director: Hsu Cheng Hung

Notable Cast: Jimmy Wang Yu, Chin Ping, Ivy Ling Po, Lo Lieh, Petrina Fung Bo Bo

After finally finishing one whole movie by watching two whole movies to start off this series (you can read my reviews for the first film Temple of the Red Lotus and for the second film The Twin Swords at the links provided for further explanation on that remark), I was ready for this third one to finish things off. The Sword and the Lute is, in its own way, the most complete film of the series as it can stand on its own as an entry without relying fully on the previous films. This makes it already better than the other two just in concept, but (and this is unfortunate) it also happens to still be a rather mixed bag of execution. It’s not nearly as in depth and complicated emotionally as Temple and it lacks the relentless fun of Twin Swords, but it does ride as a combination of the two. It works as your basic wuxia flick and doesn’t really rise too much above that.

With the various members of the Temple of the Red Lotus on the run, the heroics of our two lovers (Jimmy Wang Yu and Chin Ping) have left them in possession of the ultimate weapon: the Phoenix Lute. Capable of poisoning/slaughtering dozens of men at once with its ability to shoot an infinite number of needles at them, they must return the lute back to the family to use the Invincible Sword to destroy it before it falls into the wrong hands. But like everything that these two “twin sword lovers” do in this series, they fuck it up and it gets stolen by an evil clan.

"Why the hell am I here again?"
So at the end of The Twin Swords, the Phoenix Lute is left by a far more capable fighter (Ivy Ling Po) in the hands of the two bumbling (but well intended) sword fighting lovers to have it destroyed. This is where this film starts off and it quickly goes about blending the styles of the two previous films together. Right away, the film shifts its focus to a few new protagonists that remain the main ones for the rest of the film: the young girl who slaughtered a few monks and carries the Invincible Sword (which I believe was called The Fish Intestine Sword in the last film), her guardian, a new young soldier, and the return of Lo Lieh. Yes, if you watched the previous two (which I highly recommend before pouncing on this one) you will remember that Lo Lieh’s character is killed. That’s okay though because with all of the main characters bumbling around like idiots and losing world crushing weapons, we need someone to come back and do some serious ass kicking. To make it work, they give some hum drum back story about being the brother of the other Lo Lieh… which only makes me wonder what a film where twin Lo Liehs would partner up and conquer the martial arts world would look like…but I digress. Having new protagonists to lead the charge does inspire some refreshing change to the film and it leads to a wonderful finale where the heroes of the previous film team up with the new guys to take on some baddies in epic sword clanging combat.

Oddly enough, the film does feel like it has too much going on for as simple as it should be. There are way too many characters (a slew of new villains are introduced throughout the film just to show up in the final battle or disappear with a couple lines like Ku Feng does) and the plot tends to bounce around a bit too much, killing off some random side characters and the like to strengthen the epic aspect. While it cuts down Jimmy Wang Yu, Chin Ping, and Ivy Ling Po to glorified cameos, it throws in a ton of new familial issues and some situational comedy to layer its wuxia story. None of this is really needed and the film works much better when it grinds it down to being more of a straightforward fantasy adventure with plenty of sword fights and gimmicky villains to go with it. When director Hsu Cheng Hung does this it’s quite entertaining and fun, but it tends to just keeping adding more and more plot that’s not needed.

It's two eyed, one sword, flying purple people beater!
As is, The Sword and the Lute is the kind of film that entertains with its fun wuxia story, charming characters, and often silly moments. It’s also decently scattered in its execution as it jams a lot of characters and leaping plot lines into a movie that really doesn’t need so much to work. While it stands on its own (which is already a step in the right direction for this trilogy), it does tend to be hit or miss – and martial arts fans are going to enjoy it, but rarely sing its praises in the streets.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

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