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DVD Talk review of 'Crash Masters: The Sword'

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DVD Talk review of 'Crash Masters: The Sword'

Old 03-14-07, 02:33 PM
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DVD Talk review of 'Crash Masters: The Sword'

I read David Cornelius's DVD review of Crash Masters: The Sword at http://www.dvdtalk.com/reviews/read.php?ID=26974 and I frankly don't understand the criticism, especially “The movie pulls out all the usual tricks.” This is a film that was picked as one of the top thirty swordplay films of all time by the Hong Kong Film Archives a few years ago. In the context of wuxia (don't you just love that word?) films, few of these “tricks” were commonplace. Many instances the reviewer cites in a critical light, are the very reasons the film is so celebrated and unique. Most films up till that time took a simplistic look at storytelling by dealing primarily with tales about revenge or proving ones worth. On the other hand, The Sword is something else entirely. It's a character study about the greed and vanity of one man. This is one of the earliest wuxia films to deal with a swordmaster's obsession with the sword itself above all other things, including love and life. Cliched? Today perhaps. But at the time,this was a unique take on the genre for film. Writer/director Pan Lei, spent nearly a year in pre-production to get the film just right. This was a nearly unheard of amount of time prior to filmming in the context of the time. Unlike nearly every wuxia production up to this point, the swords and costumes depicted in the film are authentic for the period. Short of King Hu's work during this era, there isn't another wuxia film made in Taiwan that approaches the quality of this production. And Wang Yu's role is his surely his greatest outside the Shaw Brothers studio. The unusual progression of his character, from vain, brat to brooding killer, is character development seldom seen in martial arts nor wuxia films at that time. If anything,the movie points to the work of Gu Long, who strove to make realistic characters with flaws who actually live in a fantastic martial landscape.

Are the other characters lightly sketched? Certainly,if I was watching a Shakespeare play perhaps I'd be upset. The characters of the daugther and mother are well done, as are the many "bad guys" who tell a lot through action rather than words. And “melodramatic?!” I'd like to know a few films from the period that were not. This is virtually an understood with the genre from the hundreds of pictures made during the “golden period” of 1967-1972. Classics like Temple of the Red Lotus would have to get one star if penpoint charactization and lack of melodrama were requisites for greatness.

Outside of the criticism of the film itself, to write a review that treats this film's audio and video quality as if they can ever be pristine is ridiculous IMO. This is a movie has long been considered lost, even the original production company and rights holders don't have copies of this film. Prior to Crash's announcement they had it, the only existing print was at the Hong Kong Film Archives. Heck, many people thought it would never see a release commercially. The DVD from Crash Cinema is likely the only release worldwide. Simply looking at screen grabs of the film prior to remastering, shows the film has at the very least has been color corrected. As for the subtitles, I agree, they are hard to read at times. But the reviewer IMO acts as if there is some other option. The subs can't be removed, as they were burned into every print of the film known to exist. The only other existing copy of the film, a full screen Korean tape, had Korean subtitles OVER the English burned in ones. The choice really comes down to releasing the film as is, or not at all. Considering this is a touchstone movie in the development of wuxia film in Hong Kong and Taiwan, paving the way for more the literate productions of Chor Yuen nearly five years later, I'm happy Crash decided to release such a seminal film. If anything, Crash is at fault for not trumpeting this release more than they did. This is clearly a film that could be the flagship of their release schedule and deserved a few bells and whistles. I certainly hope fans of the genre will take the time to purchase the DVD, so that we can continue to see these early works before they disappear forever.

Last edited by Linn1; 03-14-07 at 02:40 PM.
Old 03-14-07, 03:46 PM
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I do indeed love that word. "Wuxia."

You're absolutely right that most movies of the era were indeed melodramatic - I can't imagine most of these movies without their over-the-top flavor. What irked me about the film, though, is that its plotline wasn't as involving as it wanted to be, and so it became easy to grow tired of the story and characters and notice more of the flaws in the overplayed style of storytelling. The character study just didn't hold for me.

As for the transfer: my problem is not that I expected a pristine transfer (I've seen too many of these things to expect anything even close), my problem is that Crash Cinema proclaims a digital restoration when none has been done. Had they merely said, "hey, this is the best we can do, and we're proud to offer this rare film to you even if it is in iffy condition," then that'd be OK. But instead they plaster their DVD cover with "digitally remastered!! Look at this before/after comparison pic!!" Which is deceptive advertising, straight up.

I understand the subtitles are there whether we want them or not, but they're so junky and illegible that surely Crash could have included optional yellow subs to run underneath the image.

I do thank you for the rebuttal - after coming up short on finding info on the film while writing the review, it's nice to see someone out there who knows his stuff.
Old 04-10-07, 03:11 PM
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I held off on commenting until I got my reviews for two other Crash Masters titles up Beautiful Swordswoman and Knight of Old Cathay. Linn is a guy I rarely disagree with, but I do side with David in terms of the print concerns (mainly the subs) and the flagrant issue of misrepresenting the quality on the back cover. In my reviews I give some leeway but also mention those gripes. At least, Crash's press release about the DVD line have been straightforward about their mastering process and the severe damage of the source prints, though I dont know how public it is (I got it via email when the line started).

As far as the film, admittedly I'm a big Wang Yu fan and I've probably seen more "starring role" Wang Yu films than any other old school star, and I rank The Sword as one of his better wuxias.

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