Sword of Swords (of 1) (Mania.com)

By:John Rose
Review Date: Tuesday, March 01, 2011
Release Date: Tuesday, January 04, 2011

The quest for the one sword to rule them all.
What They Say
Revenge is the name of the game in this epic offering from the world famous Shaw Brothers Studios. Directed by Cheng Kang (The King of Gamblers, 14 Amazons) this tale of blood-soaked blades cuts so deep your television will need a transfusion! Yu Weng (Master of the Flying Guillotine, The One-Armed Swordsman) stars as a noble warrior chosen to wield the magic sword that has long ensured the safety of his country. When the young hero is blinded and betrayed, he must rely on his remaining senses to guide his quest for vengeance and recover the sacred weapon stolen from him by the villain who took his sight - and slaughtered his family!

The Review!
There are two tracks available on this release. One is an English track and the other is a Mandarin track and both are mono though encoded in 2.0. For the purpose of the review the Mandarin track was used and no dropouts or distortions were noticed with the sound coming from the front right and left speakers and no center speaker presence.

Originally created in 1968 the feature is presented in its original 16:9 aspect in widescreen matted format. The film stands out well for its age with just a little exposure issues on the left hand side of the screen for parts of the film and a little softness to the picture. No other real issues were noticed though the muted tones used throughout may have as much to do with it as a rather sharp encode.

The cover of the release features the two main characters with Fang in the bottom right corner brandishing the Sword of Swords and Liu in the upper left. The background features a monochrome image of an opponent from the film fighting as snow falls. The back features an image of Liu and Fang in showdown that has some kanji superimposed over it. 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 and it contains an image of the original theatrical poster and the date, director and five 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 pea green. The DVD label uses the image of Liu in close up from the front cover of the release.
The main menu retains the image from the front with a close up on Liu and the Sword of Swords in front of him and the white banner with the title containing the selection options. The option highlighted is shown by a small Shaw Brothers icon after the item on the list as a bold orchestral piece from the film plays in the background. The scene select has a close up of the image from the back with stills from the series for chapter pictures and the audio screen uses the Shaw Brothers print from the reverse side of the DVD cover. The menus are quick to respond to both changes in selection and the implement selections chosen.

This feature contains no extras.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers):
Taking place during the Ming Dynasty the story follows the path of a sword that had been created during the Sung Dynasty. When the Liao state invaded China a sword of exceptional quality that had been made was presented to General Meng Liang. With the help of the sword General Meng repelled the invaders and became legend. When he died the sword disappeared into legend but has recently turned up. Now those who covet its power will set into motion their plans to acquire the sword and the power that comes with it.
The sword currently resides with an older martial arts master named Mui Lingchuen. As he, his wife and daughter are traveling they come across a large number of people lying on the ground looking like they were killed. It turns out however that this is just a ruse to ambush Mui and attempt to get the sword. As Mui is fighting the group a distance from his family and demonstrating that the sword has the power to create gusts of wind that knock opponents down a second wave of fiends descend on his family. As Mui runs back to where they were he finds that his family are being held hostage to get him to give up the Sword of Swords. He refuses and as his family is about to be struck down a new person on horseback arrives and helps to save them. The man introduces himself as Fang Shishiung and is permitted to join Mui’s school.
Fang turns out to have arranged the ambush so he could get closer to Mui and the Sword of Swords. With Mui’s age advancing he needs to pass on the sword and he arranges a contest for the strongest of his disciples to get it. Fang is certain he will get the sword except that fellow student Lin Jenshiau’s kung fu is better so Fang attempts to move the pieces into place that will remove Lin from favor with their master so as to make certain he gets the sword he is after. Despite his attempts Liu wins the sword and Fang’s attempt to get it by deceit also fail as Mui never trusted him and set a trap for him. After the treachery has been revealed Liu finds he cannot kill Fang and lets him escape which is a decision that will come back to haunt him.
Having proven himself Liu is granted stewardship of the sword and Mui tells him to get it to the country’s prince when it comes time for his coronation by way of a hero known to the people. Mui also tells Liu that he will not have an easy time though as many want the sword for themselves and Fang is certain to be among them. In fact Fang wastes no time and immediately sets his men to capture Liu’s wife which separates Liu from the rest of his family as he knows he can’t go rescue her despite their pleas as he has been assigned a larger task that they don’t know about. With the help of a push from a treasonous cousin Liu sets out to save his wife who is freed but only because Fang plans to use her in the future as a pawn in his game.
The next time Fang will separate Liu’s wife from him and their newborn son which forces action from Liu-though the price is steep as while he is away his parents and sister are killed and the family home is burned to the ground. Betrayed again by his treasonous cousin Liu finally losses the Sword of Swords to Fang and also loses his sight as well. Now blind and barely clinging to life Liu must find the strength to reclaim the sword by finding a new way to fight despite his handicap. Life will not be easy and Fang’s men search ever closer to try to find Liu and finish him off but for the sake of his country Liu must bear every pain to see the Sword of Swords returns to his possession so he can safeguard it.
Sword of Swords is a title that does not skimp in the plot department. It also has one of the most persistent villains in any Shaw Brothers film that I have seen as Fang never lets a loss take him out of the game and is forever moving chess pieces and setting them in place so that even if a given plot doesn’t bear fruit today he will set it up so it might tomorrow. This unrelenting nature sets up a powerful adversary for the hero to confront. Sadly the character seems to turn into a dog that caught a car after he gets the Sword of Swords as he does so very little with it. The film also lacks a sense of scope of time as the events in the film must take place over the course of years but it is just not reflected well on screen and the transitions to show the weight of time just are not present in this film. It also has the disadvantage that it up to such a strong powerful middle act that the film then feels like it loses steam and never captures that energy even by the final act. It feels almost like two movies in one that might have been better served by being split.

In Summary:
Sword of Swords is a title that brings quite a bit to the table for fans of martial arts films with a strong scheming villain and the hero and his burden also come across well in the depiction. This is a title that is far heavier on plot than wireworks but there is a good deal of action and sword fighting to be found. The film does lack a touch of giving a sense of the passage of time and its middle act builds up far better than the final which may not make it the best film to show those new to the Shaw Brothers experience but those a little more seasoned should find quite a lot here to enjoy.  

English Language, Mandarin Language, English Subtitles

Review Equipment
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: B-
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.
MSRP: 14.98
Running time: 106
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Disc Resolution: 480i/p
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2