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In the early 1600's, the Manchurians have taken over sovereignty of China and established the Ching Dynasty. While many nationalist revolts still brew within the martial artists' community, the newly set-up government immediately imposes a Martial Arts Ban, forbidding the practice of martial arts altogether in order to gain control and order. Wind Fire (Sun Hong-Lei), a surrendered military official from the previous dynasty, sees this as an opportunity to make a fortune for himself by helping to execute the new law. Greedy, cruel, and immoral, Wind Fire ravages the North-western China, and his next goal is to attack the final frontier, Martial Village. Fu Qingzhu, a retired executioner from the previous dynasty, feels the need to put a stop to this brutality and sets out to save Bowei Fortress. He brings Wu Yuanyin and Han Zhiban from the village with him to Mount Heaven to seek help from Master Shadow-Glow, a hermit who is a master of swords and leads a group of disciples of great ... Written by
It's perfect because it works the way as you all see. Let me first start that i'm not eager about any longer material at all, as i'm sure it'd give a totally different perspective to the themes that this film is dealing with; like the moral themes implemented by the presence of the flashbacks that "always" represent a consciousness of the characters... that's mainly what the film is about: a consciousness, a memory - altogether implying the main themes and issues the characters are struggling with: the responsibility or reconciliations with the past - which all leads to the reason of why those flashbacks being connected to individual characters in the first place. Visually Tsui Hark wanted to express a sense of the nostalgia and thoughts that are haunting our main characters. So i don't think Tsui wanted to discharge everything what the audience wanted to see. He wanted to create a visual form in which he would tell his story.
Let me say that i think this film is brilliant just due to this eluding vision, that's gained a strange intangible quality in the film. I don't think the main purpose was to give the audience enough information to sympathize with the characters, just in a more cerebral way they're forced to understand the meanings behind their motivations. I guess that most of the people are still missing the fact that the film is dealing with Chinese superstitions and themes of the fate and strange beliefs that all characters are led by the god or some higher power of the universe, it's all subtly implied in the film! The notion that we see only the segments of the whole story gives the film a very progressive tone and ethereal quality. (the film is no fantasy!)
I think Han Zhibang character shares probably the most of the screen time of all the characters. And about Green Pearl we know a lot through the memory/flashback of Fire-wind and Chu Zhaonan. We know enough about Mulang as well, he has no dramatic conflicts so there was no need to further explore this character, think about that, it's very smart. About Xin Longzi we also don't have to know any more than what's in the film, we know that he's a very reticent and silent man and at the end we find out he was brought up by wolves, so we have one reason to think he's not the center of the story and another one is that he also doesn't have any dramatic conflict, so again, would be pointless to explore his character any further - I believe that already you can sense that even a 4h cut doesn't have anything substantial to tell about Mulang and Longzi (no wonder that T.Hark himself thinks this current version is sufficient enough). We know that these two intentionally neglected characters embody in the movie a rather symbolical presence of the unity(Mulang) and power(Longzi). The subsequent novels are focusing on these two figures much more so i fairly believe we'll see something pretty interesting about them later.
The rest of these swordsmen have their very unique story to tell. Han is facing many desires and ambitions that he has to leave behind and at the end of the film he's at last finding his way how and who he wanna live and die with. Chu Zhaonan's backstory is perfectly reflected by the Green Pearl. Yung Yanchong is searching for the peace in his soul which he's doing by his honesty and helping others (mainly to that little boy). He has not enough dramatic moments so maybe to some it may seem boring watching him but to me along with Fire-wind he's the most intriguing and engrossing of all characters because of his complex personality, each his reaction and behaviour seems very concentrated and well-timed, he's conferring a quite interesting psychological element to this film that is extremely true to life. Yuanyin's life is exactly that i would like to live - she has nothing, no boyfriend, initially doesn't know her skills, being open to learning and discovering, she's not afraid to die because she has nothing to lose and also she's not afraid to live - she's the opposite image of Green Pearl's personality. Her character will also be more explored in subsequent sequels. As i said, this film has its own vision that's functioning on its own innovative level that should never be dissected by any other editing.
I noticed of some complaints by a few perplexed critics who dared to attribute a flaw to the film when thought all the personalities and missions of these 7 swordsmen could have been easily condensed into one character; sure, it could, but then this film would've completely lost any meaningful point these critics constantly neglecting. Each character was only part of the whole, and this whole was at last realized only by these 7 swordsmen that were practically invincible when they were together. All the 7 characters' traits were actually forming one strong piece of heroism and courage. So the film wanted to demonstrate the weakness of the individualism by their subplots and characters' own issues that were very relevant for the accentuation of the contrast between the themes of the "individualism" and "unification".
I see that some people have issues with the pacing and editing but i'm 100% sure that's NOT at all due to the shortage of the running time. Tsui Hark's previous movies always had such an episodic style. Watching his films was to me always like skipping through the pages of some obscure comic book. You better get used to it.
The film's technique is familiar to that of a prose or a poetry, it's all about a mastery of understatement, not a fantasizing up of something nonexisting, that's the difference. The masterwork like this is not for everyone, it's like a poem, either you get it or you don't.
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