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Review The Blade a.k.a. Dao (1995): Tsui Hark's take on the One-Armed Swordsman!

genre: martial arts, action, drama

Since I was a toddler I have been watching martial arts films. I have seen all kinds. If you think about it a lot of films and shows today feature the kind of martial arts China and Hong Kong have been making for almost seventy years perhaps even longer. And among them are the ones where you have handicapped fighters who are able to kick ass even better because of it. Now I have to admit I haven't actually seen One-Armed Swordsman yet. But I sure have seen my fair share of Tsui Hark films. Including The Blade. And let me tell you. You are in a for a real treat.

Tsui Hark has a knack to be real and gritty. Whether he is cynical or pessimistic or just wants to show a different kind of wuxia film, he once again shows he is a true master of cinema. Almost everything about The Blade is dark and dirty. Even the heroes, On Man (Vincent Zhao) and Iron Head (Moses Chan) show signs of questionable behaviour. Sui Ling (Song Lei) love interest to the two heroes or at least perhaps only in her mind, thinks she can toy around with them in order to get them riled up so that they will fight for her. And while the heroes clearly have a thing for her. They respect each other too much not to get mixed up in her games. Strangely enough they have no problems getting in trouble for what they consider heroic reasons. One could argue about those. 

When On Man finds out about his real father and how he was killed he seeks vengeance for his death. He is so hungry for it that he completely forsakes his own cautious and thoughtful behaviour. At one point Sui Ling follows him and is caught in an ambush. On Man runs up to to these villains to rescue her with the end result he loses one of his arms. This of course is devastating for him but he finds a way to deal with this trauma and move on. One of the ways is to learn and adapt a technique that enables him to use his one arm with full force and beyond. I personally didn't care for the love triangle nor the vengeance part. To me the training sequence and all the fights with On Man as the One-Armed swordsman were the most compelling. The choreography is insane and a bit hard to follow but it's visceral and intense. 

In hindsight The Blade is immensely flawed. And while it's played out as a very serious film it does seem to be parodying Wong Kar-Wai and his work. Maybe he is making fun of the incredible pretension and art house style of his films. Or perhaps it's mine wish for him to have done so since I have a distinct and passionate dislike for these (done to death) romantic tragedies especially if they detract from the action. Tsui Hark understands that it's the action that needs to impress and he delivers on that in spades even if like much of the film is far from traditional. 

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