THE late 1960s threw up some beautiful examples of the so-called wuxia school of Asian action movies, where everything is based in an age old literary tradition for swords, sorcery and chivalry - and The Swordsman Of All Swordsmen is one of the very finest.
Freshly released on Blu-ray in a brand new limited edition 2K restoration as part of the Eureka Classics range, director Joseph Kuo’s 1968 masterpiece is an elegantly appointed tale of old school honour and cold blooded revenge.
Having been traumatised as a child by witnessing the gruesome murder of his entire family, Tsai Ying-jie (Tien Peng) hits the road hellbent on tracking down and personally seeing off those responsible. Utilising his years of in-depth swordsmanship training, he intends to kill all five murderers, all of whom are now masters of their given martial arts school.
This gruesome gang, led by Yun Chun-chung (Tsao Tsian), executed Tsai’s father to obtain a legendary weapon called the Spirit Chasing Sword, but before he can exact revenge and tick all the men off his hitlist, he begins to feel the ultimate futility of his mission when Chun-chung’s daughter Flying Swallow (Polly Shang-Kuan Ling-Feng) saves his life following a bloody duel which leaves him for dead.
As he makes his way back to full health, Tsai must decide whether to continue his journey of vicious retribution or learn a new path of forgiveness from his mysterious benefactor. There is also the small matter of a lone swordsman (Chaing Nan) who challenges Tsai to a battle to prove which school of sword fighting is really the best.
While The Swordsman Of All Swordsmen sometimes feels like a standard late-60s martial arts epic - and not an overly original one either, given the obvious debts on show to the work of the great King Hu in the genre - it’s still a beautiful slice of stately martial arts movie-making that deserves its considerable cult status.
As the first offering in Joseph Kuo’s Tsai Ying-jie trilogy and a fine, dignified example of the age-old wuxia tradition explored on the silver screen, this is a valuable piece of work. The fight scenes, all of which are well choreographed and stylishly shot, deliver the goods, and the blending of action and old-fashioned very moralistic drama - something absolutely central to wuxia - is done beautifully throughout.
Things may get a little overwrought and wildly melodramatic by the film’s final third, but again, that comes with the genre, and the lush cinematography from Lin Tsan-ting and the tight editing from Chiang Shu-hua ensure this is an escapist delight from start to finish.
As ever, Eureka have gone the extra mile for this Blu-ray release, offering up that impressive 2K restoration that ensures the film looks as good today as the day it was first printed and tagging on a wealth of extras including a fresh audio commentary track from Frank Djeng and John Charles and a vintage interview with Kuo himself.
There’s even a bonus disc featuring the only known print of The Mystery Of Chess Boxing to make this a truly essential purchase on every front.