I’m not usually a big fan of wuxia films but Derek Yee’s Sword Master had a ton of attention when it was released last December.  It was a huge 3D green screen extravaganza with some epic sword and wire work.  I had heard of it but films tend not to get released over in America cinemas.

Tsui Hark produced this bad boy.  He’s probably best known for directing films like Chow Yun-fat’s A Better Tomorrow series and Jet Li’s Wong Fei-hung series Once Upon a Time in China.  I always found Tsui a decent director but he never bowled me over.  Here he is strictly a producer.

Sword Master is based on a book by Gu Long and was originally put to film by the Shaw Brothers back in the seventies as Death Duel.  I’ve seen many Shaw Brothers films but I couldn’t recollect even hearing of Death Duel much less seeing it.  Required seeing that film to see this one?  Of course not.  So I pressed onward.

Lin Gengxin plays is a master swordsman who has just sort of given up on life.  He basically just wants to be a wanderer and be left alone.  He basically decides to just live as a pauper and not kill.  He really doesn’t want to do anything.  Of course in a movie like this this man is not what he seems.  It seems he has left a past behind him and that could come back to haunt him.

On the opposite end is Peter Ho who plays Yen Shih-san.  He’s truly a master assassin who has no problem killing anyone as long as the money is good…or if he’s interested enough.  He actually has this super badass tattoo on his face which makes him look damn unique.  He looks badass.  I certainly wouldn’t want to fight him.

Shih-san ends up with a crap load of money but also finds out that he’s dying.  Which sucks.  So he goes off to basically find a good place to die.  Shih-San and Gengxin’s Hsieh Shao-Feng both wind up in Bitter Sea Town where they get involved with the townspeople and the head of the brothel, an evil, rich man who kidnaps girls and does whatever he wants.  The two meet and it is also revealed that Shao-Feng is the legendary Third Master.

Now the Shao-Feng’s ex fiancee is pissed that she was left at the alter and then actually abandoned again.  Her feeling is if she can’t have Shao-Feng, no one can.  She had hired Shih-San to kill Shao-Feng but he was told that Shao-Feng was already dead.  Shao-Feng, being the legendary Third Master, is a master of the sword and is said to be unbeatable.

When Shih-San learns that Shao-Feng is actually the Third Master the story of both the assassin and the swordsman become intertwined in ways that they never thought possible.

I’m going to ignore plot for a second and talk simply on how amazing looking this film is.  It is GORGEOUS.  Even though (and I’m revealing myself here) I didn’t overly enjoy the film I would have LOVED to see this on the big screen in 3D.  This may be one of the best looking wuxia films I’ve ever seen.

Now this being a wuxia film one can expect a ton of swordplay.  This film does not skimp out on the swordplay action.  It is actually pretty well done and nicely choreographed.  The action is quite intense and I guess that is thanks to the director, choreographer, and editor.

But…the plot.  Ultimately I didn’t like the plot at all and found the Third Master character a bit…boring?  I mean I know he wants to leave his old life alone and just do his thing until he finally is forced to fight…but I guess I just didn’t enjoy Gengxin’s interpretation of the character.

On the flip side Peter Ho was fantastic.  His attitude, his fighting skill, and the entire look they had for him was all just perfect.  Every time I looked at him with that weird snake tattoo thing on his face I thought to myself, “This is one BMF that I would really want to just stay away from.”  He was a bad ass and the film did a great job showing that off.

Ultimately in this film all these different forces converge onto the town and force the ending we all expect.  Basically the plot is…treat your woman right or else she may bring a whole gang full of swordsman to come kill your dumbass.  Even if you are the legendary Third Master…don’t be a douche.  Even if you have your reasons you may have one pissed-ff ex-fiancee who will want your ass dead.

Let’s talk about bonus features or the utterly complete lack thereof.  This is a featurette called Mastering the Sword but I don’t want to even call it a featurette.  It is literally 1 minute and 27 seconds of behind the scenes between Yee and Hark instructing the actors in front of blue screen.  There is barely any interview (Hark may say two sentences to the camera) and the rest is set to music.  I’m not sure why someone actually edited this and put it together.  It is awful.  Absolutely awful.  Calling it a special feature is a joke.

Now there is a trailer for the film as well.  That is also around a minute and 30 seconds but actually does a great job in showing off the film.  I actually enjoyed the trailer 30 times more than I enjoyed the movie so you can really call it amazing marketing.

The last special feature?  The cover tells me that the disc has “English Language Available.”  So have an English overdub is also considered….a special feature?  I would certainly call it a “feature” but have a VERY hard time calling that a “special feature.”

These days to own a physical copy of a film it usually needs a bit more….oomph then this.  Sword Master does not provide that oomph.  A horrible featurette that lasts less than 2 minutes is the worst thing every produced in the history of ever.

Luckily the film is decent enough and if you are into films with lots of amazing swordplay you will have a decent time watching Sword Master.

RANK: C+

SPECIAL FEATURES RANK: F