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The Swordsman (1990)
"Xiao ao jiang hu" (original title)

 -  Action | History | Romance  -  22 May 1990 (USA)
7.1
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Ratings: 7.1/10 from 1,219 users  
Reviews: 14 user | 17 critic

When a scroll containing valuable martial arts secrets is stolen from the Emperor, an army detachment is sent to recover it. Blademaster, a young martial arts expert, accidentally ends up ... See full summary »

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(novel), , 5 more credits »
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Title: The Swordsman (1990)

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With an entirely new set of actors, this movie continues the story from Swordsman (1990). Blademaster and his martial arts school decide to retire to a distant mountain. Before leaving, he ... See full summary »

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Cast

Credited cast:
Samuel Hui ...
Cecilia Yip ...
Jacky Cheung ...
Sharla Cheung ...
Fennie Yuen ...
Blue Phoenix (as Fanny Yuen)
Siu-Ming Lau ...
Ngok (as Siu Ming Lau)
Ma Wu ...
Lau (as Ma Wo)
Ching-Ying Lam ...
Kuk (as Ching Ying Lam)
...
Zhor
Shun Lau ...
The Eunuch
Ming Man Cheung ...
Rest of cast listed alphabetically:
Yiu-Sing Cheung
Sing Kwong Lai
Chi Ming Liu
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Storyline

When a scroll containing valuable martial arts secrets is stolen from the Emperor, an army detachment is sent to recover it. Blademaster, a young martial arts expert, accidentally ends up in possession, but the plot grows complex as Japanese samurai, an illegal Chinese sect, a tribe of snake-wielding women warriors, a rival martial arts school and the leader of his own martial arts school vie for the scroll. Romantic complications also ensue, involving him with his longtime chum, daughter of the leader of his school, a Japanese woman, and two of the snake- wielding tribeswomen (Blue Phoenix and their leader, Princess Yin-Yin). Written by Reid Gagle

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22 May 1990 (USA)  »

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Xiao ao jiang hu  »

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Followed by The Legend of the Swordsman (1992) See more »

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A Nutshell Review: (DVD) Swordsman (1990)
22 December 2006 | by (Singapore) – See all my reviews

Which brings us to Swordsman, or as the novel titled, The Smiling, Proud Wanderer, whom Chow Yun-Fat took on the title Linghu Chong role in a TVB serial of old. Swordsman is part of a loose trilogy of sorts, the sequels being Swordsman II starring an almost different cast in leading roles, and Swordsman: The East is Red, made solely to capitalize on the popularity of actress Lin Ching-Hsia who made her memorable comeback role as The Invincible Dawn from the second movie. Amongst the three, Swordsman is still my favourite, even though Swordsman II had more fantastical fighting sequences, no doubt made more exciting by the charismatic presence of pugilist Jet Li. Swordsman: The East is Red, was largely wasted, and save for Lin, none of the other cast members returned, and had a totally unrelated story from the original medium.

Not that Swordsman stuck closely to the intended Louis Cha version. As mentioned, plot lines were compressed, and characters sometimes appear and disappear with hardly a fight. What worked, was how the movie managed to sample the spirit of the novel, and translate it for the screen. The script and plot was kept tight, and revolved around the intense search for a missing martial arts manual, called Kui Hua Bao Dian, which is known to give the practitioner extreme prowess, as demonstrated in the sequel Swordsman II, but with a price.

Double crossings, hidden intentions, quest for power - these are familiar themes which are played to perfection by the characters, save for one pair, our heroes Linghu Chong and Kiddo, who are caught in the web of intrigue. In short, the movie pretty much summarized the battles and craftiness of the characters in their thirst for the book, and ultimately, we see the disillusionment of Linghu Chong in matters of "jiang hu", as sung in the song Xiao Ao Jiang Hu.

And oh, the song! If there's a song that maketh the movie, Swordsman will immediately spring to mind. It's an infectious earworm, but what elevated its status rather than being just another song played during the credits or relegated to background music, was its involvement as a plot element, in the bonding of friendship, the expression of disillusionment, and also, being so integral to the development of the story, in the form of revelation of true intentions.

Naturally, since the song is important, the God of Songs of the time, Sam Hui, was casted as Linghu Chong. There were reported protests against the casting of Sam, because of his lack of martial arts background, but I would like to beg to differ. Yes he's not a natural pugilist, but don't forget, the characterization is key upon deciding who gets casted. His interpretation and portrayal of Linghu Chong, in my opinion, is spot on (miles better than Jet Li), bringing a dash of suave and impish slyness, together with strong vocals and that devil may care attitude. Stuntmen were probably roped in to handle the complex fighting stances, especially when Linghu Chong executes his Du Gu Jiu Jian (Du Gu's Nine Swords), a reputable and formidable swordsplay technique able to counter any attacks, but hey, more than half the martial arts movie out there, have stunt folk fighting in the place of actors.

The rest of the cast were also top notch, like Yueh Wah, Cecilia Yip, Cheung Mun and even Jacky Cheung in a rare villainous role, although it was a pity that for the sequel, almost all of them were replaced, yet by another strong lineup like Rosamund Kwan, Michelle Reis, Jet Li, and of course, Lin Ching-hsia.

With a rich, strong story containing the essence, adequate interesting fighting sequences, awesome cast and memorable song, it's hard to find what's not to like about Swordsman. Never mind the rumoured reports that director King Hu actually walked out of the project halfway, and had folks like Ann Hui, Ching Tsui-Tong, and even Tsui Hark himself amongst others take over in a collaborative effort, this movie delivers, and will forever remain one of my favourites of the martial arts genre.


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