Review: Derek Yee's SWORD MASTER (2016) Revisits A Classic With An Open Door Forward

So, not sure about the rest of the crew here at Film Combat Syndicate, but I am a big fan of weapon work in fight scenes so I was excited to review Derek Yee's latest, Sword Master, as it's marketed to be an epic sword fantasy revisiting the Shaw Bros classic, Death Duel...and I got more than I bargained for.

Right from the very start we are treated with a very pretty fight scene full of CGI, which we should expect for the rest of the action pieces. When I saw the first scene, it made sense. This is a modern day way of showing wuxia films of old. Mostly everything is done in a green screen studio to give obviously unrealistic but gorgeous backdrops that give the lore and land a mythical vibe that feels real and familiar. We see this as Swordsman Yen, played by Peter Ho, travels the land to fight his rival to see who is the greatest warrior in the land. From peaceful rivers to snow-covered bridges, the stunning CG visuals compliment the choreography of wire-work and sword fighting that this genre is known for; and what I'm describing is literally the first ten minutes of the movie.

The rest of the film is wonderfully done Chinese sword fantasy justice. The true hero of our story doesn't come in after we learn and understand what Swordman Yen is about, showing how both these great swordsmen ultimately share the same paths whether they are heroes or villians. Kenny Lin, who plays as Ah Chi/Third Master wanders Bitter Sea City as a drunkard coolie employed by Dawn Moon Brothel, to escape his life as swordsman. Day in and day out, he's been challenged by warriors from all over to make a mark for themselves, and tires from the world of warriors. His exodus from the martial world acts as a catalyst that drives the rest of the martial world to act upon the vacant spot for power which ultimately ends up coming back to him and Swordsman Yen.

If it's not obvious, I thoroughly enjoyed this film. Yee himself has been consistently implementing the use of the new age of digital media in his past works and I think it's great. These types of films thrive in the edges of our imagination to mix both real and not, myth and legend. The landscapes and set pieces are both cinematic and fantastical to which the action scenes take advantages of both and is tied together with that classic romance novel of wuxia films.

I like where Sword Master took me and I'm excited to see more fantasy pieces like this in the future, and much like the hero of this story learns, sometimes you must accept change to better yourself. Good idea for a modern day retelling of old stories!

See the film this Friday when Well Go USA opens it in theaters!


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