The Emperor’s Sword (2020)

Posted in Reviews by - November 11, 2021
The Emperor’s Sword (2020)

Sumptuous, moody wuxia with a modern twist; a constantly moving, robotic arm camera used during the action sequences, and a weird, gimmicky motion-sensor technique which zooms between takes in incredibly artificial slow-motion. It’s actually quite distracting, and clearly doesn’t work. During an action scene, the camera seems to pause on completely random parts of the frame. Then there’s the shoddy visual effects used in post-production. It’s a shame, because it detracts from a film with some accomplished moments; a Hero-lite story set after the death of China’s first Emperor, Qin Shi-huang, and in the tumultuous period before the start of the Han dynasty. Meng Xue (Hao Yilin) is the only surviving member of the famed Meng family who are considered rebels by China’s new Emperor, Qin Shi-huang’s young son, Qin Er-shi. They are wiped out, however, Meng Xue escapes, possessing the original, highly coveted ‘sword of Qin’. She is instructed to hand the sword back to the dead Emperor’s tomb-bearers for safekeeping – but the new regime wants the sword back, so they send out their best fighters to retrieve it. Luckily for Meng, she befriends the retired, patriotic ‘Seven Gentlemen’ who vow to protect her and guarantee her safe passage to the tomb of Qin. Much of the film works rather well; the sound design, costume, sets and performances are all top-drawer, especially the captivating Pan Ruoyao who balances intensity and coquettishness in equal measure as an undercover sword mistress who, in a lovely homage to King Hu, doubles as an inn-keeper in a great act of subterfuge with one of the Emperor’s treacherous ministers. There’s a deformed, mask-wearing kung fu baddy with a supernatural twist – played by Xu Chang-chao – who can seemingly cause a solar eclipse and kick people clean off the ground like a football. He’s introduced far too late into the film, more like an afterthought, which seems like a missed opportunity for some much-needed kookiness. Many of the notable, solemn wuxia beats you have seen a thousand times before, but there is enough style and drama here to keep you engaged. Thankfully, in the final act, the filmmakers seemingly decide to completely abandon the whirring, blurry camera idea, leaving the film’s stars Mu Fengbin and Yang Qiyu to battle it out in a far more coherent manner.

The Emperor’s Sword is out now on digital, Blu-ray and DVD in North America courtesy of Well Go USA.

This post was written by
Editor and creator of Kung Fu Movie Guide and the host of the Kung Fu Movie Guide Podcast. I live behind a laptop in London, UK.

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