Background: This Taiwanese wuxia film was originally pencilled in for a dvd release on Toby Russell's Rarescope label - it featured in a 'coming attractions' trailer alongside other films such as The Monk's Fight and Witty Hand Witty Sword. However, it was never released.
A couple of years ago, a well-respected German collector managed to raise enough funds through a pre-order scheme to get copies of the aforementioned films taken from the original reels, and sent out to contributors. Sword of Justice was meant to be released in a similar deal, but if memory serves me right, a copy of the Rarescope print was uploaded onto a torrent site before this could happen.
Since then a London-based fan has added an English dub track to the widescreen Rarescope print, and made some colour corrections. For the purposes of this review, though, I'm using the original print, which is heavily worn and features burnt-in white subtitles.
The film stars Lau Seung-Him, Yau Pang-Sang, Lucia Cheung Siu-Lan, Ma Chin-Ku and Ching Paang.
Story: A formidable assassin, Shui Yi Han, sporting his trademark umbrella sword, arrives at the abode of his victim, and ruthlessly dispatches him down a well. This prelude sets the tone for the story: crisp, atmospheric and clinical. Famed novelist/screenwriter Ku Long is listed in the credits as a 'planner' for this film, and the themes and execution certainly bear his hallmarks.
On his quest to eliminate the henchman of the Hai Dang, and head of the organisation himself (Kung Ling), he assists the Seven Star Alliance Escort Company, which possesses a map of the whereabouts of Kung Ling's residence. Kung Ling sends out his best scummers to smash the Seven Star Alliance, their head Lo Chien Fang, and Hero Lang himself. A recluse assassin, Lu Tu Hsieh, who carves a wooden eagle to mark every man he has killed, is employed. As is Shuai Yu Liu, a weasel-voiced hardcase (played by the action director Ching Paang). Out of Hai Dang's reach is their former premier assassin Tieh Yuan, who now lives in a small house by the beach with a woman. He is now a fisherman, and shuns his former life.
Hero Lang visits Tieh Yuan on his path to infiltrating and destroying Hai Dang, but faces a surprising foe at the film's conclusion.
Comments: Wow. This is a stunning film, on several levels. Firstly, the atmosphere and cinematography is superb, and provides a living, breathing framework for the nature of the story. The story itself is rather confusing, and needs several viewings to truly get to grips with (unless I'm just being thick - quite possible). On first viewing, however, I understood enough of the plot to appreciate how the atmosphere generated by the music selection, camera angles, set design, and production choices really added to the flavour of the narrative. The fabulous framing shots and the subtle lighting add to the rich texture of imagery created by the other effective qualities. I'll not blow the game, but the way the camera focuses on the blood dripping from a sword, as both combatants freeze following a flurry of blows, is utterly fascinating. The mood of this movie is exquisite - haunting, poignant, and often hypnotic.
Umbrella Assassin approaches the residence of his target
Hai Dang archers surround the teahouse holding the head of the escort company and his four best men.
A bloke getting skanked by an assassin.
Seven hard bassas prepare to fight Hero Lang on the beach
Superb lighting and atmosphere
And that is the ultimate bottom line really. I think this is a magnificent film. It's confusing on first viewing, but the technical qualities shine through from the first minute to the last. On repeated viewings, the story and characters become clearer and a new level of appreciation unfolds. Highly recommended.
The head of Hai Dang gives out his orders
It's the end of the road for this lass. Note the scratches on the print, and the overall washed-out look. Awesome.
Little moments like this are memorable throughout - during the blustery duel against the Eagle Carving Assassin, Hero Lang has a leaf land on his face. It stays there for ages, before blowing off. This fascinates the Eagle Guy (below)