The Blade is a whirlwind of blood, color and stunning imagery. Rarely does one find an action movie so uncompromising and technically evolved as this offering from Hong Kong’s prolific director/producer giant Tsui Hark. Based on the “classic” kung-fu film The One-Armed Swordsman, The Blade tells the story of a young man adopted by the owner of a renowned sword smithy, who discovers that his true father was killed by an almost superstitiously powerful bandit, Lung “who it is said can fly!”. When he goes out seeking revenge with his father’s broken blade, he runs afoul of a group of vicious desert scum, and loses his right arm in the encounter. After being nursed back to health by an orphaned farmboy, he eventually learns to compensate for his loss, and with half a weapon, half a swordfighting manual, and one arm short of a pair, returns to confront the man who murdered his father.
A simple enough story here gets a nihilistic edgy arthouse treatment, with excellent production values. The action takes place in an ambiguous, almost post-apocalyptically amoral desert landscape. Hark’s camera speeds around with abandon, capturing both the bleak setting, and the lushly psychedelic colors of the internal emotional landscape of the characters. There’s a lot of detail here,and the simple story is fleshed out with a dark sensuality and themes of misplaced values of honor in a harsh and selfish world.
Beyond the basic structure, The Blade is far from conventional. Principal actor Chiu Man-Cheuk is nothing short of amazing in his body language and physical abilities, and although the fight sequences early on bear some of the confusing and indistinct qualities of recent Hong Kong revisionist kung-fu movies (Ashes of Time, Bride with White Hair for example), the final 15 minutes of this movie frame possibly some of the greatest, and most furiously exciting fight scenes in cinema.