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The Sword Identity ("Wo Kou de Zong Ji")

Quebec Premiere
  • China
  • 2011
  • 108 mins
  • DCP
  • Mandarin
  • English (subtitles)

“An utterly up-to-date classic, a comic-epic swordplay film for a postmodern age” — Shelly Kraicer, CINEMA SCOPE

Into Guancheng, a Ming-era coastal city with four noble martial arts schools, comes a mysterious warrior of exceptional skill and bold intentions. Liang Henlu carries a large and highly unusual sword, clearly of Japanese design (and thus taboo in the Chinese military culture of the time). Mistaken for a Japanese pirate — an error he’s in no rush to rectify — the sly Liang is in fact the last living bodyguard of the late General Qi, who had developed this sword precisely to beat the Japanese raiders at their own game. Now his weapon and techniques risk drifting into obscurity. To establish a school in the general’s memory, however, the swordsman must hold his own against the established schools, and they’re not about to have their reputations undermined. He’ll have to match wits with the clever and cool-tempered Qie, big boss of the four schools, but he’s got a number of tricks up his own sleeve. Meanwhile, an aging master has come down from the mountains for one last shot at glory, and others still have a stake in the affair…

It’s a banner year for the venerable genre of wuxia — literally, “martial hero” — in Chinese cinema. Tsui Hark’s thrilling, kinetic FLYING SWORDS OF DRAGON GATE sees the genre explode into the third dimension while DRAGON, with Donnie Yen, uses it as the basis for a visually powerful psychological mystery. Joining this pair is novelist, screenwriter (Wong Kar-Wai’s forthcoming GRANDMASTERS) and now first-time feature-film director Xu Haofeng’s unexpected delight, THE SWORD IDENTITY. Constructed on the firm foundations of Xu’s scholarly knowledge of the martial arts, this highly original and rigorously researched work stands in stark contrast to the admittedly entertaining excesses and exaggerations so common in wuxia films. Opting for artfully composed tableaus in lieu of incessantly hyperactive camerawork and action scenes that are smart, startling, often funny and utterly authentic, Xu presents an understated yet resonant satire of the history, mores and conventions of the martial arts, and more universally, of the myriad motivations, poignant and petty alike, that drive people. The cast is without exception excellent, transmitting the subtle nuances of Xu’s script with the same elegance and economy that permeate every other aspect of THE SWORD IDENTITY.

— Rupert Bottenberg