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Monday, December 20, 2010

BASTARD SWORDSMAN -- DVD review by porfle

Every once in awhile you come across a Shaw Brothers film that leaps out of the pack, grabs you by the lapels, and practically explodes in your face.  BASTARD SWORDSMAN (1983), an exercise in sheer kinetic thrills, is one of those films.

The story twists and turns us from start to finish, but what it all boils down to is a deadly rivalry between two kung fu schools, the Wudan and the Wu Di.  The title "bastard" is Yun Fei Yang, who lives with the Wudans as a servant and is constantly abused and ridiculed by the students.  We later find that a mysterious hooded teacher is secretly giving him kung fu lessons and he's become an adept fighter.  His unrequited love for Lun Wan Er, the school's only female student, leads to him being falsely accused of murder and forced to flee. 

Meanwhile, the Wudang chief, Qing Song, fears a third loss at the hands of Dugu Wu Di during their upcoming ten-year contest, knowing that his own Polar Sword Skill is still no match for Wu Di's superior Fatal Skill.  A possible war between the two groups would be decided by the invincible Silkworm Skill of Qing Song's elder brother, Yen Zhong Tian, whose powers are fading.  Qing Song is saved during an attack on his life by a young warrior named Fu Yu Xue, who becomes his heir as Wudang chief should anything happen to him.  But several levels of treachery infest both houses, with a bloody betrayal leading to a conflict that only the "bastard" and his new knowledge of Silkworm Skill can resolve.

With a story that's complex and involving, BASTARD SWORDSMAN is more than just a bunch of fight scenes linked by filler.  A wealth of interesting characters take part in scenes of high drama which constantly surprise us with unexpected revelations.  Our loyalties continue to shift as good guys become bad guys, and vice versa.  Here, the action definitely doesn't outweigh the plot as they compete for our attention.

But what action!  There are so many exhilarating, outlandish fight scenes that it's impossible to describe them all.  Just about everybody gets into the act sooner or later, and the air is filled with swords, fists, unusual weapons, and anything else that can be hurled, projected, or willed into motion.  Just when you think you've seen it all, each successive sword-clanging clash proves more stunning than the last.  Add to that the supernatural element, visualized with great imagination and colorful SPFX, and just about anything can happen. 

Here is some of the best wirework I've seen, augmented by uncommonly sharp editing and choreography that pulls out all the stops.  The early practice fight between Qing Song and his elder brother Yen Zhong Tian is a truly magical sequence, yet it's only the beginning of a series of stunning setpieces that constantly strive to top each other.  The attack of the four assassins on Qing Song is one of the wildest free-for-alls I've ever seen, as is the fight that occurs when Wu Di's daughter and chief warrior Kung Suen Wang encounter the Wudangs' Busby Berkeley-like "Dipper Sword Formation" in a spectacular battle.  And these are but a few of the thrilling match-ups.

While the usual fun and exciting elements of the earlier Shaw Brothers films are present here, direction and cinematography show a growing level of sophistication.  The film is wonderfully cinematic in a way that foreshadows the more mainstream successes of later years, yet it still retains the raw energy of the 70s classics. 

Director Chin-Ku Lu harnesses the frenetic, off-the-wall hilarity of his HOLY FLAME OF THE MARTIAL WORLD from the same year and applies it to much more serious effect, with impressive results.  In particular, Yun Fei Yang's mastery of the Silkworm Skill (in a wildly surreal sequence) and usage of it in the intense final battle must be seen to be believed. 

The DVD from Funimation is 16.9 widescreen with Mandarin and English mono soundtracks and English subtitles.  No extras besides trailers for other Funimation releases. 

A brisk, invigorating assault on the senses, BASTARD SWORDSMAN is one of the most all-around entertaining and impressive Shaw Brothers productions I've seen so far.  It's exactly the kind of experience I'm looking forward to every time I watch one of their films, and more.

Buy it at


Kung Fu Manchu said...

I also enjoyed this. Looking forward on your comments about the sequel also!

Porfle Popnecker said...

Thanks! I'm looking forward to watching it!

Siskoid said...

Total awesomeness. I loved how crazy it was, we all did here in my Kung Fu Fridays Club. They made me order the sequel right then and there, and we're watching it next week.

Cuz you know, the guy with Fatal Skill can't be allowed to get away with it.