Ling the Swordsman (Jet Li) and his fellow students tire of the corrupt politics of the world and prepare to retire to seclusion. On the eve of their hermitage, however, the students find themselves drawn into a power struggle between the heads of a local clan, one of whom has struck a bargain with a group of Japanese expatriates with extraordinary ninja skills. Needless to say, Ling is not about to be allowed to hang up his sword in peace...
Swordsman II is an amazing film on many levels. Above all, don't feel you have to see the first Swordsman movie to enjoy its sequel. The first was an incoherent mish-mosh with five directors - five! Under a single director - the stellar Ching Siu Tung of Chinese Ghost Story and Heroic Trio fame - and an entirely new, marvelous cast, featuring the aforementioned Li, Brigitte Lin Ching Hsia, Rosamund Kwan, Waise Lee, and Michelle Reis - this movie delivers. Fast-paced, hyper-kinetic, and not a little berserk. You have to fill in a little of the backstory yourself, but otherwise the recapping is adequate; just remember that the song people keep singing was important in Swordsman I, and you'll be fine.
The plot synopsis, above, really can't do the picture justice - this is one of those movies that should be allowed to unfold before you, surprise piled upon surprise, amazement upon amazement. I was lucky enough to catch this movie in a theater and I left dazed.
This is not, unfortunately, a pristine copy of this movie. There's a fair amount of dust damage and scratching, but never enough to distract the viewer. Some grain crops up, but it seems to originate from the film itself, not the transfer. The Cantonese soundtrack is a bit muffled, whereas the Mandarin track is livelier.
The English subtitles have been redone from the earlier film prints and laserdisc transfer. These largely seem an improvement, though it's a bit disorienting - as many times as I've seen this movie - to have the villain referred to as "Invincible Dawn" rather than "Invincible Asia" (though I believe the 'Dawn' translation is more accurate...) and then the liner notes refer to him as "Fong the Invisible"!
The menu plays in the background the song "Hero of Heroes", which features prominently in the first two movies. Hope you like it, because you're going to hear those opening chords over and over again as you choose your language and subtitles and explore the extras. Speaking of which:
The "Data Bank" takes you to two text selections, each thoughtfully provided in Chinese and English: "Synopsis", which repeats the plot description from the box cover, and "Cast & Crew", which is a listing of the actors (but not the parts they play) and crew members. "Best Buy" will take you to an un-subtitled trailer for the 1994 Chow Yun Fat vehicle, Treasure Hunt. "Original Sound Track" is a montage of clips from the movie set to a more pop-oriented version of "Hero of Heroes".
This is the movie I use to show nay-sayers that martial arts films don't all fall into the "Master, he insulted our school!" mold. Obviously, I like it, and think it is at least worth seeking out for rental if you're an action fan. Me, I have my shiny new DVD, and I couldn't be happier. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go watch it again, and practice my "Essence Absorbing Stance".
Dr. Freex, 5/14/2001