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THE BLADE (Warner Archives) 1995

By • Apr 5th, 2016 •

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DVD review by Roy Frumkes

At the very end of the film, the female lead – a mischievous trouble-maker who has rankled the two male leads no end in act one – reunites with them both, all three smiling joyfully now that the war and battles and mortal combat is over. Then….the men fade away, and she’s alone, and much older, waiting as she’s been waiting year after year for their return, which we realize will never happen. It’s a powerful, poignant image to leave us with.

It’s also a complete and unadulterated lift from the ending of a slightly earlier film, ROMEO IS BLEEDING by Peter Medak, from 1993, except that in that juicy Noir, it’s the male lead, Gary Oldman, waiting in vain for his wife (Annabella Sciorra) to come walking through that door.

Now I rather liked what I learned from Tsui Hark’s blatant theft of another film’s denouement. I learned that he’s a film devotee, maybe not Hong Kong’s Tarantino in that respect, but still, someone who loves the history of the medium, and borrows from it from time to time when it suits him.

Someone at the screening said that this film is like Hark doing Pasolini. That’s a nice comparison. It is far less glossy than the ‘Detective Dee’ films, or even his classic adventures like DRAGON GATE INN. The camera dwells on the common populace at work in village squares. And it has a grainier, softer feel than many of his other works, with more earthy tones. This I also liked.

Disappointingly, the plot is completely incoherent. And I don’t believe it’s a cultural thing. I’ve been able to follow the plots of his other films. I accept that there are nuances I won’t pick up on. But this narrative left me utterly baffled. I couldn’t follow emotional plot-lines – like why the leading lady was relentlessly manipulating the two men the way she was, nor did I see how it led them anywhere near their fates. Her plot seems more a subplot, and it remains unfulfilled. Beyond that, the twists and turns of the story on a strictly action level eluded me as well. I read on the BluRay box’s back cover that this was a sort of re-boot of a much-loved franchise character – the one-armed swordsman. But it straggled and stumbled to its main character’s creation, never letting us really take the journey with him.

The final fight between the amputee protagonist and his practically super-human opponent is a rousing, massively edited sequence that almost compensates for everything amiss about the film…until at one point near the climax of the fight, when the hero seems to be losing, and one of the other characters jumps in and distracts the villain, giving the hero enough time to regroup his energies. This was a terrible error. Recall LETHAL WEAPON: Mel Gibson seems to be losing to Gary Busey in an excellent, climactic fight scene, and his partner, Danny Glover, offers to help him, but he refuses. He’s got to win the fight by himself. The same thing should have happened here, or better yet, there should have been no offer of assistance at all, just a fight to the death. As it is, this last minute intervention undercuts the sense of victory out of the one-armed swordsman’s hand.

Despite its many fine moments, detailed art direction, use of the camera, and performances, it’s a film for Hark completists.

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