Director: Ching Siu-Tung
Stars: Jet Li, Brigitte Lin, Rosamund Kwan, Michelle Reis, Waise Lee
The second installment of this popular trilogy, even though it features almost a totally different cast, continues the storyline of the first movie. The swordsman of the title, a man named Ling (Jet Li), along with his trusted group of fellow warriors are on the hunt for a mystical scroll which will give its bearer near-unlimited power. A villain called Asia the Invincible (Brigitte Lin) gets the scroll first, and finds out that there's a catch to the power -- the user must become a euneuch. Asia does so, and finds himself transforming into a woman as s/he gains more power. S/he also finds him/herself attracted to Ling, which sets up a conflict of interest as the final confrontation draws near.
This was actually one of the first Hong Kong movies I watched (besides the innumerable old-school movies most of us saw back on the old "Kung Fu Theatre" shows). While I would not say it was a life-changing experience, it definitely changed my movie viewing habits forever. Fights were no longer confined to the ground; they could occur any and everywhere. A movie didn't have to be just one genre; they could mix up all manners of style and still be coherent. Women could have just as much power and fury as their male counterparts in movies, sometimes even more. Of course, these ideas are pretty commonplace in the western movie lexicon, especially after the success of east/west hybrids like The Matrix, but when I first saw this movie several years ago it floored me.
As for today, it still holds up well. The story -- like many wuxia films -- seems a bit too convoluted for its own good (at least to my western pallette); there's a few too many characters (and their respective plotlines) in the mix. The novel which the trilogy is based on clocks in around 2000 pages, and while the movie is not as claustrophobic as the first, it still feels a bit cluttered, as the filmmakers perhaps stuck a few too many characters into the movie stew. However, the movie sports Jet Li in one of his better and more unique roles (he actually kisses a girl in here) and a breathtaking performance from Brigitte Lin. Lin has a very minimalistic acting style, especially when compared with many other melodramatic Hong Kong actors -- she can accomplish a hell of a lot just by glaring at the camera in the right fashion.
Along with the solid acting, the action featured here is just simply fantastic. In an impressive career which has included directing (either outright or via way of action co-ordination) such movies as Duel to the Death, A Chinese Ghost Story, Dragon Inn, A Better Tomorrow 2 and The Killer (just to name a few), the scenes in Swordsman II stands out as some of Ching Siu-Tung's (and the Hong Kong industry in general) best work. Even if you don't normally like wuxia or wire fu movies, you should really check this film out.
A review of the VCD for this movie can be found here
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