Sword Master

Sword Master
Photo by D. Tempesta

I know this week was supposed to be Logan Lucky, and I sincerely apologize that it is not. But I had a series of days during which I felt subpar, so the theaters seemed like a poor choice. Given the current state of the box office, the theaters seem like a poor choice in general… As such, I have decided to switch this week and next. This week, we have Sword Master; next week, we will have Logan Lucky. Although, I am glad I found this week’s movie; it was a pleasant surprise.

Sword Master was both simple and profound. Now, keep in mind, Mulholland Drive was our last movie. Compared to that, The Illusionist is simple to understand (for those interested, we will get to this movie soon). But I do not mean that Sword Master was simpleton simple, I just mean that it was simple. The plot was easy to follow. The characters were sympathetic. The bad guys were bad. The good guys were good. And the ending was satisfying and complete. The movie certainly dealt with complex issues, but it did so through simple devices. In short, Sword Master offers profundity through its simplicity.

Quite contrary to what I just said, I must say that I was crazy confused for the first 20 minutes or so, but I am pretty sure that was my fault. So, I knew who Yen was and I knew his purpose, but I had no idea that Ah Chi was Hsieh Shao-Feng. I am super embarrassed to admit that, but somewhere after reading the movie description and before Hsieh Shao-Feng’s first flashback, I could not figure out he was the third son Yen was seeking out who had “died”. It is not hard to deduce, and I was likely even told directly at some point, but it was completely lost on me. Other than this, I found the storytelling to be flawless. Again, it was simple, but it approached complex issues.

Yen desired to beat the greatest swordsman so that he could then be the greatest. Yet, once he discovered Hsieh Shao-Feng was dead and that he himself was dying, his priorities changed. His priorities changed even more once he realized he could do good with his abilities, turning an unchecked killer into not only a sympathetic character, but a relatable one. We only knew Hsiao Li as a (literal) prostitute and thief for much of the first half of the film. This is likely a personal flaw of mine, but I did not have much sympathy for her. Indeed, I barely cared for her at all until I saw the way she looked at Ah Chi when he took that stabbing for her. Even then, my care was fairly minimal. But my heart broke the moment I saw her walk into the village and I realized who her family was. She had no choice in what she did, but she did it all for her family, keeping it a secret to protect them all the while. Her brother discarded human waste for a living and her mother was not fit for work, yet they were the two happiest people in the whole movie. Hsiao Li debased herself to the point of being beaten to make life better for these two people. A simple shift in my perspective changed the way I felt about her entirely. It makes me wonder if I have committed this error in the real world (almost certainly) and how I can do better in the future.

Finally, we have Hsieh Shao-Feng. The best swordsman in the land, he was forced to kill since he was ten years old, but (understandably) desires to leave this life behind. In doing so, he has found that he has no reason to live. I firmly believe he was telling the truth when he said he wanted to die, but it seems he does not wish to end his life himself. It is at this point in the story that Hsiao Li’s brother offers as good a reason for living as I have ever heard. The bread he has is good, but he can only have more bread if he is alive. So living is worth it as long is there is more bread to be had. Works for me! This is coming from a man who lives in a hut with his mother, discards human waste for a living, and only sees his sister once a month. Yet he laughs more than most adults I have seen. Profundity in simplicity.

I know I have said previously that I get annoyed with unrealistic fighting in these types of movies, but I didn’t have as much of an issue here. I think it was a combination of being impressed with the story and characters and realizing that “unrealistic” fighting does not necessarily detract from the quality or authenticity of the movie. After watching Yen’s assistant do unnecessary backflips (not even during a fighting scene), I was reminded about the existence of the harlequin and similar characters throughout history. This also brought to mind the Fool from King Lear, who is one of the greatest literary characters ever created. Once I remembered these characters, the over the top antics were no longer something I had to get over, rather they added to the experience. Also, for a nearly two-hour movie titled Sword Master, there was surprisingly little fighting. Granted, the movie was not actually about fighting, but still. It was a bit surprising. Overall, Sword Master was refreshingly simple but made me think deeply all the same. I’d definitely recommend checking it out. Oh, but it is subtitled. I don’t know how you feel about those 😊

My name is Chuck, and these are my thoughts. Now I would like to know what you think. Did you find a depth in the storytelling? Or do you think the movie was just overly simple? Do you typically enjoy the over the top antics in these types of films? Leave a comment down below, and we’ll talk. Enjoy the day!


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