Seven Swords (Chat Gim): Ultimate Edition (2005)

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Released 7-Nov-2007

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Martial Arts Theatrical Trailer
Featurette-Making Of
Featurette-Behind The Scenes
Trailer-and 4 TV Spots
Rating Rated MA
Year Of Production 2005
Running Time 146:56 (Case: 142)
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered
Dual Disc Set
Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Tsui Hark
Studio
Distributor
Fortissimo Films
Roadshow Home Entertainment
Starring Donnie Yen
Leon Lai
Charlie Yeung
Kim So-yeon
Lau Kar-leung
Duncan Lai
Lu Yi
Sun Honglei
Zhang Jingchu
Case Amaray-Opaque-Dual
RPI $23.95 Music Kenji Kawai


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None Chinese Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.35:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
English for the Hearing Impaired
Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits Yes, During credits

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    Producer/Director Tsui Hark is perhaps best know in the west for re-invigorating the kung fu genre & launching the international career of Jet Li in the 1990s with his Once Upon a Time in China series of films. Yet before that he had enjoyed a career as producer of some of John Woo's magnificent Hong Kong action films including A Better Tomorrow I & II (1987 / 1988) and The Killer (1989). This impressive pedigree perhaps helps to explain some of the excitement that built around Hark's Seven Swords, his epic retelling of Liang Yu-sheng's novel Seven Swordsman from Mount Heaven, and the disappointment when it did not live up to expectations.

         The Ching Emperor has newly come to power and issues an edict prohibiting the practice of martial arts on penalty of death. With a bounty per head offered by the Emperor, mercenary armies arise such as that of Fire-Wind (Sun Honglei) who kill indiscriminately across the Chinese countryside - men, women and children. As they near a small village, a fugitive with a dark past warns the villagers of their impending fate and tells them to seek help from the warriors on Mount Heaven. Two of the villagers, Wu Yuan-yin (Charlie Yeung) and Han Zhi-bang (Lu Yi) travel to Mount Heaven. Five warriors, including Chu Zhao-nan (Donnie Yen) agree to help and with Wu and Han they become the Seven Swords. They return just in time to defeat Fire-Wind's first attack on the village, but this is just the initial skirmish. From there the conflict escalates forcing the villagers to abandon their homes and seek safety in flight across the desert. Followed by Fire-Wind's army, and with a traitor in their midst poisoning the water and leaving a trail for Fire-Wind to follow, all involved must make life and death decisions that will decide the fate of each swordsman, and the future of the village.

       There is a lot to enjoy in Seven Swords. It is sumptuous to look at, the colour palate stunning with blacks and greys for the mercenary army and browns for the villagers. The action sequences are impressively energetic and inventive and involve wire-work instead of excessive CGI. As such, they look as realistic as they can be under a wuxia genre, where walking up the walls is commonplace. The film does not shy away from the brutal consequences of battle either and shows the blood, sorrow and pain. The quieter moments that intersperse the action sequences also mostly work, and a number of the character's personal relationships are explored. Some critics have questioned the romantic subplots, saying they slow the action. Indeed they do, but it is these quiet, reflective moments that ground the film into a human reality that helps give the battle sequences their power. Indeed it is Zhang Jing-chu as the teacher Fang who is the moral heart of the film. Fang, with the children she teaches, is the hope for a better life after the death and destruction ends. Without her, or the human element inherent in the romantic sub-plots, we would have an action film without heart or soul.

         The problem is the plot. The film was apparently edited down from an initial cut of over 4 hours, thus loosing over a quarter of the original running time. The result is some sudden plot jumps and a lack of explanation of character and motivation that makes it difficult to really care, and go with, the heroic swordsmen. For example, at around the 27 minute mark Wu and Han are lost in the snow seeking Mount Heaven; by 28 minutes a Master on the mountain is rousing the swordsman to help. Unlike The Magnificent Seven, for example, there is no recruitment that allows us to know the characters, their backgrounds, skills or motives. They are quickly into the action and it is then difficult with the numbers of heroes involved to delineate who is doing what. Indeed, it is only towards the end that a few flashbacks attempt to flesh out some of the background stories.

         Some characters fare better than others. The easily recognisable Donnie Yen has some touching scenes with the rescued slave Green Pearl (Kim So-yuen) and participates in an excellent final fight sequence with Sun Honglei. Charlie Yeung's character also benefits from being introduced before the main action starts but most of the others are only loosely sketched. Even in the final battle only a couple of the swordsmen get any serious action sequences. As the murderous Fire-Wind, Sun Honglei is over the top and suitably manic although his Fire-Wind is similar enough to his Jamukha in the recent Mongol to wonder about his range.

         At the 2005 Golden Horse Awards in Hong Kong Seven Swords was nominated for 7 awards but won only 1, for Best Action Choreography. At the Hong Kong Film Awards it was nominated for 11, yet won none. Certainly, the action sequences, cinematography and stunning colours of Seven Swords are great and if you chose to forget the plot and motivation and enjoy the colours and action Seven Swords can be a rewarding experience.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    The film is presented in its original ratio of 2.35:1 and is 16x9 enhanced. The colour palate is stunning; witness, for example, the opening sequence when Fire-Wind's army attack a village; they are all in black armour and cloaks, the villagers in beige and browns, with the striking contrast of red banners and flags. In many sequences the colours are often desaturated, with earth browns predominating but the contrast with Fire-Wind's army is always highlighted. The DVD shows the colours to great effect with no obvious blemishes or artefacts. Shadow detail is great, blacks solid and skin tones natural.

Subtitles available are English and English for the hearing impaired. They are in a clear white text and do not have any obvious spelling or grammatical errors. Occasionally they flash by a bit too quickly to read fully.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    Editions of Seven Swords in other regions have Cantonese and Mandarin 5.1 tracks but in Region 4 we get only a Cantonese Dolby Digital 2.0 at 224 Kbps. It is not a bad audio track; stereo is redirected to the surrounds and the dialogue is clear and effects do ring out especially the clashing of swords. But for a recent action film a 2.0 audio track is really not good enough.

The actors on set spoke a number of different languages and much of the dialogue was re-recorded. As a result lip synchronisation is not perfect but nor is it distracting.

The music is an orchestral score that supports the film effectively without being memorable.

Something interesting: playing the review DVD using my NAD T737 AV system resulted in it tripping out on a number of occasions, including at approximately 37:30, 113:06, 114:05, 128:06, 129:11. I then played a different, non-review copy of Seven Swords on the same equipment and the trip outs occurred in the same positions. I then replayed the review disc on my secondary system using an Onkyo TX-SR 576 and it worked.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

Trailer - Disc 1.

The Seven Swords trailer presented in 2.35:1 with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound, 2:57 minutes. This is the same trailer as the Hong Kong Theatrical trailer on Disc 2.

The Making of Seven Swords (Chinese with English subtitles - 18:19).

Presented in full screen, Dolby Digital 2.0, with clips from the film in 2.35:1, this is a relatively superficial piece. Tsui Hark and most of the principal actors are represented in brief interviews that concentrate on character and plot rather than the making of the film as such. What makes the piece interesting, and worth watching, is the excellent location and behind the scenes footage.

Behind the Scenes.

This is divided into four sections with a "play all" option. They are captioned as "Shooting Diaries" and contain behind the scenes footage. All are full screen with Dolby Digital 2.0 audio. There is no narration but there are informational captions. While actors feature occasionally, the focus of the diaries is on locations and director Tsui Hark. Included are: Prelude to a Dream (5:13): preproduction diary April - August 2004 / Battle Plans (4:17): shooting diary August - September 2004 / Love and War (5:16): shooting diary September - October 2004; this includes a partial interview with Donnie Yen / Vertical Limit (5:15): shooting Diary November 2004, concentrating on the Mount Heaven location.

Promotional Gallery.

This consists of two trailers and four TV spots: all are presented 2.35:1 with Dolby Digital 2.0 audio. There is a "play all" option. Trailers: Hong Kong Theatrical Teaser (1:24), Hong Kong Theatrical Trailer (2:57). TV Spots: A Quest Begins (0:16), A Call to Action (0:21), The Dark Army (0:21), Trailblazer (0:12).

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    The Region 1 Dragon Dynasty DVD of Seven Swords is also a 2 disc set. The feature has a commentary by Bey Logan & Tsui Hark and the extra disc contains deleted and extended scenes (23:27), plus the Behind the Scenes, Making of and trailers and TV spots we have. However, also included are substantive interviews with Tsui Hark (45:11), Donnie Yen (25:43), Zhang Jing-chu (17:58) and Duncan Lai (25:50) and a Storyboard Gallery. Region 1 also has Cantonese and Mandarin 5.1 audio.

There is also a Region 3 Limited Edition. It has the same Making Of and Shooting Diaries, but also includes an interview with Donny Yen and Cantonese and Mandarin 5.1 audio.

Region 4 is clearly inferior - a win to Region 1.

Summary

    Producer/Director Tsui Hark's is a great filmmaker and his impressive pedigree explains some of the excitement when it was announced that he was engaged in filming an epic retelling of the Seven Swordsman from Mount Heaven. The film clearly did not live up to expectations, missing out on major awards at Hong Kong's film awards. The film is let down by the plot but it does have wonderful action sequences and stunning cinematography and is worth a look if you are a fan of Tsui Hark or Hong Kong action cinema.

The Region 4 DVD is entitled a "Two-Disc Ultimate Edition" but misses out on the 5.1 audio and a huge number of quality extras that were included on the Region 1 DVD release. A missed opportunity.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Ray Nyland (the bio is the thing)
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
Review Equipment
DVDSony BDP-S350, using HDMI output
DisplayLG 42inch Hi-Def LCD. This display device has not been calibrated. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080p.
Audio DecoderNAD T737. This audio decoder/receiver has not been calibrated.
AmplificationNAD T737
SpeakersStudio Acoustics 5.1

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