THE BLADE (1995)

This one has the buzz, and it should. Director Tsui Hark has always had a tendency toward the poetic that has balanced out his inclination toward action, and here, in the wake of Wong Kar-Wai's success, he turns his style inside out, without the poetry leading and the action following.

 The movie is a remake of the 1967 action classic One Armed Swordsman, by way of Wong Kar-Wai's Ashes of Time. The story, set in days of yore, is about two workers in a sword factory, and the alternate paths their lives take. The story is told through the eyes of a woman who loves them both, and the poetic side of the movie is how the movie tries to paint their kinda-triangle. The first half of the movie uses this plot to move to where one of the workers loses his arm, and from there it becomes a standard revenge movie.

 The movie, with its various characters, and their many unresolved feelings for each others, is obviously meant to be along the lines of Ashes of Time. Tsui only seems to have a superficial interest in this, sadly, where that depiction of unresolved longing is obviously Wong Kar-Wai's raison d'etre (for those of you who don't speak French, that translates as "raisin dentures") and the passion of an gifted artist generally tends to triumph over the indifference of a gifted craftsman.

 However, and this is one huge however, Tsui Hark is a craftsman the likes of which there are very few. The first half of The Blade is a constant, steady swirl of hand-held camera shots, quick edits and masterful juxtapositions. It is like watching the work of an entirely different person, and the act of the Tsui's stylistic reinvention is just as mind-boggling as the frequently uncanny shots. Those who were frustrated by the oblique action scenes of Peace Hotel or Ashes of Time will be more than happy with the action fights of The Blade, which somehow manage to be utterly clear while remaining mostly obscured. I honestly believe that Tsui Hark has pushed the boundary of that cinematic wall where the speed and the obliqueness of the shots seamlessly meet the viewer's ability to reconstruct the information. I almost expected the ghost of Sergei Eisenstein to appear in the theater and run around giving everyone in the audiences high-fives. And although Tsui finally runs out of tricks about an hour through and then just recycles them, it's still far better than Oliver Stone in Natural Born Killers, who only made it twelve minutes. (I know my brother, Tim, whose opinion I respect greatly, enjoyed the movie more once it slowed down a little). Look for this one to be cited as the non plus ultra of the HK genre for the next couple of film festivals, at least. And if you love HK cinema, make it a point to hunt this one up somehow. You'll be grateful you did.

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