they became sister cities, Verona and Ningbo (in east Zhejiang province),
exchanged statues of Romeo & Juliet and Zhu Yanzhi & Liang Zhongshan,
popularly known as the Butterfly Lovers.
While the comparison between the two star-crossed couples was always apt,
Jingle Ma cranks up the Shakespearean elements in The Assassin’s Blade (trailer here), his romantic adaptation of Butterfly
Lovers legend, which releases today on DVD and Blu-ray from Well Go USA.
has always led a sheltered life, but she longs to see the world. Suddenly, she will have a bit of an opportunity. She is to study with the Soul Ease martial
arts clan in the retreat high in the mountains.
The order does not accept women, so she will have to pass as a man. Only her father’s old friend, Soul Ease’s
healing practitioner, Herbal Head, knows her secret. Although they start off on the wrong foot, she
soon forms a close bond with “Big Brother” Liang, the master’s top student.
is all particularly confusing for him, given his inability to see through her
clever disguise. Yet, viewers fully
realize they are predestined for each other, having appeared in each other
dreams for years (though always seen from behind and slightly out of focus). Just when they start to get somewhere, her
childhood friend “Brother” Ma Wencai appears to take Zhu home where news of
their arranged marriage awaits. That’s
just not going to work, especially considering Ma’s rather ruthless approach to
love and war.
first half of Blade channels
Shakespeare’s comedies, particularly Twelfth
Night’s cross-dressing romance. The
pendulum swings to tragedy during the second half, directly invoking Romeo & Juliet. There is even a mysterious little McGuffin causing
no end of complications. There was a
time when Hollywood had a golden touch with romantic weepers, but these days
Hong Kong and Chinese wuxia epics hold the overwhelming competitive advantage. Blade is
a perfect example. Despite suspecting
how it all must end, the film keeps viewers hoping otherwise and will likely be
thoroughly satisfied by the poetic closing.
It also delivers some pretty impressive swordplay, emphasizing the human
weaknesses of the combatants, instead of making them nearly invulnerable
is darn hard to believe anyone could confuse Charlene Choi with a man. Regardless, as Zhu she is both vivacious and
sincere. Wu Chun broods like mad opposite
her and brings sufficient credibility to his action duties. Unfortunately, Hu Ge’s Brother Ma’s
in-betweenness makes him too merciless to identify with, but too pathetic to
cheer for his downfall.
While director Ma (perhaps best known as the
cinematographer on some of Jackie Chan’s best known films) emphasizes the tale’s
high literary tragedy, he keeps the pacing brisk and the action muscular. It all has a classy look in the tradition of
Zhang Yimou epics that should appeal to fans of historical romance as much as martial
arts fanatics. Recommended to general
audiences as a thin edge of the wuxia wedge, The Assassin’s Blade (a.k.a. The
Butterfly Lovers) is now available for home viewing from Well Go USA.
Labels: Charlene Choi, DVD, Hong Kong Cinema, Jingle Ma