Ming Dynasty valued stability. For the
four martial arts masters of coastal Guancheng, a new discipline based on
forbidden Japanese swords represents anything but. The nameless warrior will have to prove his
late master’s sword the hard way in Xu Haofeng’s The Sword Identity (trailer here), which screens during the eagerly
anticipated 2012 New York Asian Film Festival.
who has seen Donnie Yen, this year’s Star Asia Award recipient, in the Ip Man franchise knows full well what a
new master in town has to do before they can open a new school. They have to fight through the martial arts
establishment, even if that means going toe-to-toe with Sammo Hung on a rickety
table top. Coincidentally, Xu is the
screenwriter for Wong Kar-wai’s long-awaited competing Ip Man epic, so he must
have an affinity for innovative masters.
unnamed swordsman and a somewhat less fierce comrade duly smack their way
through the first three vested interests, but the fourth will be a trickier
proposition. Labeling them Japanese
pirates because of their sword, the acting fourth Master Qie and his
predecessor, the reclusive Qiu Dongyue, will not play ball. Suddenly a fugitive, the man with no name
teaches a foreign dancing girl (and potential love interest) Sailan a secret
move to hold off all comers, while he sneaks over to Qie’s, spoiling for a
fight. Again, he cannot connect with his
slippery nemesis, but there he enlists the unfaithful wife of old Qiu to
similarly defeat hordes of martial artists single-handed, allowing him to
continue his skulking about.
the swordsman’s second secret move boils down to blindsiding people as they
come through the door, but Xu makes it sound mysterious and mystical. If it works, it works. The sword is what is really important. The invention of the nameless man’s master,
the late illustrious General Qi Jiguang, it was devised specifically to counter
the verboten swords employed by real Japanese pirates, which makes its current
identity crisis so frustrating for the disciple. Indeed, Identity
is more about notions of legacy and loyalty than martial arts spectacles.
there are some memorable fight scenes in Identity,
but Xu’s approach is distinguished more by its cleverness than full-throttled
adrenaline. While some of the drama
going on with Qiu, Qie, and Madame Qie is a bit awkward, there is some nice chemistry
developed between the swordsman and Sailan, played by Song Yang and Xu Fujing,
respectively. Frankly, they should have
had more scenes together.
The austere look of Identity is a refreshing change of pace from the many lushly produced
post-Crouching Tiger Wuxia epics, chocked
full of CGI. Song Yang is an engaging Spaghetti
Western martial artist and Sailan’s attractive dancer colleagues provide some appealing
comic relief (though not so much the pompous officer of the guard they
adopt). Distinctive and ultimately quite
satisfying, The Sword Identity screens
this Sunday (7/1) and Wednesday after next (7/11) as part of this year’s NYAFF.
Labels: Chinese Cinema, Martial arts cinema, NYAFF '12, Xu Haofeng