DVD/Blu Ray

The Swordsman of All Swordsmen (18) |Home Ents Review

Dir. Joseph Kuo, Taiwan, 1968, 86 mins, subtitled

Cast: Polly Shang-Kuan Ling-Feng, Tien Peng, Yang Mon-Hua, Tsao Tsien

Review by Colin Dibben

This classic work in the Chinese/ Taiwanese wuxia or ‘heroic swordplay’ genre owes much to King Hu’s early films. Director Kuo keeps things both stately and lively and the heroic feeling is palpable.

Ying-jie (Peng) has spent years honing his swordsmanship so that he can wreak revenge on the men who killed his father and mother. The five killers are all expert swordsmen themselves, from different schools; they murdered in order to take possession of the legendary Spirit Chasing Sword.

One of the killers has a son and a daughter who have been well trained too: the daughter, Flying Swallow (Polly Shang-Kuan Ling-Feng), saves Ying-jie’s life, leaving him conflicted over his plans for revenge – especially when her brother challenges Ying-jie to a duel.

Joseph Kuo was never one to call attention to his art. There are none of Hu’s jaw-dropping long shots, but there are plenty of ‘wow’ moments: the initial fight and the two fights on beaches are very nicely done indeed. In these shots, the camera often glides along with the heroes, tracking them like Hu does in Dragon Inn. The short duration of the shots here actually increases the adrenaline rush of the effect.

Polly Shang-Kuan Ling-Feng has a good role here. She grounds the sentiments that the other characters are mouthing off about in an abstract manner, when they aren’t busy letting their swords do the talking. In part, this must be the relatively substantial lines she is given; but her presence also has a brooding quality that works to make the whole thing more epic, heroic and even credible.

The restoration here is 2K rather than the 4K mentioned in the trailer and definitely doesn’t look crystal clear. Never mind, as this limited edition comes with a bonus disc which you’d be a fool to miss: an HD presentation of Kuo’s 1979 film The Mystery of Chess Boxing – much loved by hip-hop group Wu Tang Clan (the villain in the film is called Ghost Face Killer).

This is a very different sort of film from Kuo; it’s a classic kung fu film with lots of training sequences, shot in a formally austere, rather flat fashion. The subtitles are magnificently old-school – they were burned into the only known surviving print which was digitally scanned – and borderline nonsensical: “Travel in the sky high and low unceasingly”, “You may get him in the hades”, obviously written by someone with a non-perfect grasp of English.


The Swordsman of All Swordsmen is out on Blu-ray on 18 March 2024.