30 Jun Bastard Swordsman Review by Silver Emulsion Reviews
I first saw Bastard Swordsman a few years back when a new theater in town attempted to jump-start a revival film community. They presented the film via the only surviving 35mm film print, and it was glorious. The theater’s plans would eventually fail due to a lack of attendance, but my love of Bastard Swordsman had firmly set up shop in my heart.
Yun Fei Yang (Norman Chu) is the bastard of the title, and when we meet him he’s serving as an unwilling live target for throwing dart training. This ridicule is the essence of his existence at the Wu Tang school… well, that and a lot of janitorial work. With this established, his character is sidelined to build our knowledge of the Wu Tang school and its master, and then their rivalry with the Wu Di Invincible Clan. Yun Fei Yang is absent for quite a while, and you might be inclined to think that the film has forgotten him. Don’t worry, it’s all part of the plan; writer/director/choreographer Tony Liu Chun-Ku is merely unfolding his inspired wuxia fantasy in the best possible way. Bastard Swordsman is constantly unveiling new and exciting ideas, both visually and in its story, and this is the heart of what makes the film such an intensely entertaining experience.
Working hand in hand with the narrative is the thrilling choreography directed by Tony Liu and Yuen Tak (member of the Seven Little Fortunes along with Sammo Hung, Jackie Chan and Yuen Biao!). The action is equal parts precise, fantasy-driven and intense, but the word that stands out the most to me is “barrage.” It is a total action assault that delivers incredible moments one after another, rarely giving you time to process or even fully appreciate each one. From a character so martially adept that he can fight while seated in a flying throne, to another who practices the ultimate Wu Tang technique of the silkworm (which allows the practitioner to basically shoot silk like a Chinese Spider-Man), Bastard Swordsman is a constantly evolving wuxia work of art. It is many things, but boring is definitely not one of them!
When I saw it in the theater, one of my new-to-wuxia friends remarked, “I don’t know what I just watched. I don’t even know if I liked it.” No doubt, it’s a lot to take in at once. This kind of unbalanced, deer-in-the-headlights reaction is what I imagine most uninitiated viewers would experience after the barrage of fantasy-driven action in Bastard Swordsman. Wuxia films are known in the US primarily from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and while Ang Lee’s film is excellent, it’s not representative of the genre as a whole. The fantasy of wuxia inspires and excites me the most, and Bastard Swordsman allows its creators’ unhindered, fertile imagination to explode on the screen in one of the best films the genre has to offer. From the wirework, to the editing, to the performances… everything about the film is absolutely top-shelf, incredible wuxia filmmaking. Bastard Swordsman is an absolute must-see film for wuxia fans!