Supreme Swordsman (Mania.com)
Review Date: Wednesday, February 23, 2011
Release Date: Tuesday, January 04, 2011
Now with the titular character in a supporting role.
What They Say
After a decade spent working on the sets of many Shaw Brothers classics, Li Pai-ling steps up to direct this fast-paced display of expert swordplay. It's a blur of lethal blades as two of the Shaw Brothers' most respected swordsmen, Derek Yee and Pai Piao, slash and slice their way through The Supreme Swordsman. A devious swordsman carves his way across China, cutting down every reputable blade master he can find. After taking the weapons of 99 defeated adversaries as trophies, he turns his eyes to his final goal: defeating the one known as the Supreme Swordsman and claiming the legend's title and sword as his own. The scoundrel's malicious rampage seems unstoppable - until the son of a fallen sword maker finds the power to avenge his father's death.
The only audio option on this release is a Mandarin mono one. The audio track is split between the front right and left speakers with no center presence. Sadly even by mono track standards this one sounds rather small and flat much of the time.
The feature was originally produced in 1984 and is presented in 16:9 widescreen matted format. The presentation contains some grain, noise and a little color blur with bright red items but otherwise is fairly strong and the action scenes flow smoothly.
The cover of the release features the main protagonist Yan Bei Er against a green background with kanji behind him. There is also a white banner with the title in it about halfway down the cover which gives the appearance of rolling over onto the back. The back has the main antagonist Qin carrying the Cold Eagle Sword set against a lime green background. The back also contains an image of the original theatrical poster and the date, director and three stars named. Along with that it also has five stills from the feature but this release did not have the slip cover some previous Shaw releases have had. It does retain the Shaw Brothers print on the back of the DVD cover like other Shaw releases this time in lime green. The DVD label uses the image from the front cover of the release.
The main menu features a close up of Yan taken front the front cover as a dramatic music piece from the film plays in the background. As with the cover there is a white bar that contains the title as well as the selectable options about halfway down the screen. The option currently highlighted is shown by a small Shaw Brothers logo as well as the option turning a lime green color. The scene select has a reverse image of Yan from the front of the DVD slipcover that starts just above his smile along with small stills representing the chapter stops. The audio screen uses the lime green Shaw Brothers’ wallpaper much like the back of the DVD slipcover with a large white bar containing the selectable options.
This release contains no extras.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers):
Qin Wu Xin is a man of exceptional skill with a blade and one driving ambition-to defeat 100 master swordsmen and collect their swords to show them off in a specially prepared building so that everyone will recognize his skill as the greatest. With that goal in mind he has been cutting a swath across China as he hunts swords whose name have become famous and the hands that wield them. The film opens with Qin dispatching his 97th opponent and hanging the man’s sword along with a small wooden tablet of the swords name, the name of the individual who he defeated and the location where he claimed victory. Qui is then shown dispatching numbers 98 and 99 so that he is standing right at the cusp of fulfilling his goal.
Qin has decided that the crowning jewel in his collection will be the famous Xuan Yuan Sword wielded by the man known as the Supreme Swordsman (Xiao Tian). Qin pays a visit to the Supreme Swordsman’s house to challenge him for his sword but discovers that while his skill may be incredibly high his sword is nowhere near the same level as it is split in half. Rather than being deterred by his loss Qin redoubles his efforts to find the perfect sword. His assistant Crow leads him to the sword smith Xie Ying whose son Yan Bei Er is a friend of Crows. Qin sees the sword Xie Ying is forging and decides that it will be his despite the sword smith’s wishes.
At the same time Qin also begins to search for the Cold Eagle Sword which is a legacy of the Black Magic Clan which he is descended from but that had disbanded 20 years previous. As he hunts for the sword he confronts a man who knows of the existence of an ultimate style of the Black Magic clan which Qin has not been taught. With this knowledge Qin determination to grasp all the power he can is set to full blaze. He overhears a conversation Yan has and discovers that Yan is also a member of the Black Magic Clan and his father is hiding the Cold Eagle Sword. Qin uses this knowledge to challenge Yan’s father who losses both the Cold Eagle Sword and his life in Qin’s quest to satisfy his burning desire.
Yan bursts into Qin’s mansion to claim revenge but is intercepted by Crow who had been given instructions to tell Yan to seek out the scholar Yu Yi Fei. Yan will discover his heritage that he never knew and that his father was the guardian of the Cold Eagle Sword and he is also a descendent of the Black Magic Clan. The reason for the clan disbanding 20 years ago was because their skills and sword had become so renowned they were constantly facing greedy men who wanted to gain the secrets for themselves. Yan is then sent to Xiao Tian who is known as the Supreme Swordsman as he is the only man who could teach him the skills to defeat Qin. Yan discovers that Xiao is far more a philosopher than imagined as Xiao wonders what good revenge will do and isn’t eager to help Yan accomplish this task.
At the same time Qin finds the secret skills of the clan by an act of treachery as Yan is being taught swordsmanship by his friend Crow who left Qin. Qin will attack Xiao again to try to obtain his prize and also set Yan onto a path where he may fully embrace the history of the Black Magic Clan. Now Yan will have to face many challenges and embrace his heritage to earn the ability to challenge Qin-but is even all that enough to face the man who has all the treasures of the Black Magic Clan and ruthless ambition to grasp everything he can?
The Supreme Swordsman is an action picture that eschews the random nature some martial arts films by clearly setting up the antagonist with a concrete and believable goal. It also keeps the story from growing too large as the nature of the antagonist/protagonist relationship makes for a more personal and smaller circle than some films where the fate of a nation is at stake. It makes for a rather intimate feeling story that can help connect it with the viewers. The biggest downside to the picture is a point where Yan is introduced to the Black Magic Clan and trained by them as the manner used breaks up the delicate intermix of conflict when it really should compliment it more given both Qin and Yan are members of the Clan. For some reason it also seems to break up the flow of the film more than it should. The film does survive that though and pull itself back onto pace for a climactic end however. There is also the issue that the titular character is at best a secondary one in the film which seems a touch odd when watching.
In Summary: Features
The Supreme Swordsman is an example of the Shaw Brothers library of titles when the studio is working at a very good clip. There is plenty of action and remarkable sword choreography mixed into a story of ambition, betrayal and revenge. Fans of the martial arts genera in general and the Shaw Brothers in particular will find a film that strikes a very good balance in getting the plot to be thick enough to not be subservient to the action portions but also not too convoluted to obstruct a natural flow into the action as the two elements complement each other well.
Mandarin Language, English Subtitles
Samsung 50" Plasma HDTV, Denon AVR-790 Receiver with 5.1 Sony Surround Sound Speakers, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080.
Mania Grade: B
Audio Rating: C-
Video Rating: B-
Packaging Rating: B
Menus Rating: B
Extras Rating: N/A
Age Rating: 13 and Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: FUNimation Entertainment, Ltd.
Running time: 94
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Disc Resolution: 480i/p
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2