Hong Kong director Derek Yee began his career as an actor, debuting in the 1977 martial arts film Death Duel, based on Gu Long’s novel of the same name. It is only fitting that nearly 40 years later, Yee directs its 3D remake, entitled Sword Master. Unfortunately, it lacks a strong narrative to match its beautifully choreographed martial arts scenes.
Sword Master follows Yan Shishan (Peter Ho), a sword fighter employed as security at a brothel, despite the fact that he no longer wishes to kill. He becomes romantically involved with one of its prostitutes, Xiao Li (Jiang Mengje), much to the dismay of brothel owner Murong Qiudi (Jiang Yiyan), who is seemingly romantically interested in Yan herself; she will use force to win both Yan and her former prostitute back. At the same time, Yan must resist his father, an aristocrat who uses an army and much force to woo his son back. Adding complications, Yan has a love/hate relationship with Sword Master (Lin Gengxin), who both helps and fights Yan.
The fight scenes are well choreographed and the exquisitely choreographed action scenes will no doubt be enhanced in the 3D theatrical release (this review is based on a 2D media release). It’s too bad that the action is bogged down by the almost soap-opera back stabbing and conniving that overshadows the action scenes. It seems that director Yee wanted to add an emotional accent to the film — and it’s a noble thing to do in an action film — but it becomes a confusing mess and a distraction from the action sequences, which no doubt will be attracting audiences to the film. It’s too bad it wasn’t done more effectively, because it could have elevated Sword Master to a complex and interesting action movie.