The first time I watched Seven Swords was on the heels of Tsui Hark’s series version. At that time, I was so enthralled by Vincent Zhao’s Chu Zhaonan that I didn’t really pay too much attention to the movie, but with some time on my hands, I’m giving it my full attention, and I got questions.
The movie requires you to know this story, because it unfolds on the screen so fast. First, funky looking people are whacking villagers, next thing you know, you’re in the mountains with meteors raining down from the sky. But I did like some of the changes Hark made, like making Yuanyin female, because girls can carry swords too.
But I’m most intrigued by Donnie Yen’s Chu Zhaonan being Korean. He wasn’t Korean in the series, and since the world has not seen fit to provide an English translation of the novel both are based on, I have no idea if this is original or of Hark’s own making. In the wuxia genre, outsiders are generally from “the West” or anyplace other than where our heroes originate. Does it make a difference that Donnie is Korean? I think so; it underscores what I guess is supposed to be the character’s aloof nature. He’s all anti, which makes the whole supposed love-relationship with Green Pearl not very believable…..that is, unless you know the story. He’s anti because he’s not from “here” but making him from Korea puts a new spin on who he is as a character. Is it supposed to make him more noble, or more distant?
What I miss is the exploration of the relationships among the brothers, and between Chu and Yang Yunchong. In the movie, they just seem to be hanging out on Mt. Tian, and you don’t get a sense of the brotherhood.
What does remain is the crackaliciousness of the villagers. They are supposed to be righteous, but they would sell out their grandma. Upright swordsmen come to save you, and you accuse them of being traitors. Where’s the love? Village leader willing to whack his own daughter with no proof that she sold out the village. People willing to whack kids (how low!). So much for doing it for the people.