While kung fu fans will talk ad-nauseum about the Shaw Brothers, one director that seems to only garner praise from the hardcore fans is Joseph Kuo, a Taiwanese director responsible for some of the most beloved films of the genre.
Chances are you have a few of his films in your collection. He;s best known for his traditional kung fu films like 18 Bronzemen, Unbeaten 28, 7 Grandmasters, World of Drunken Master, Born Invincible and of course The Mystery of Chess Boxing, but what many don’t know is his penchant for great “Wuxia” films.
What’s really interesting to watch is how these films from the late 60′s provided the template for the great sluggers of the 70′s. The great inventive cinematography, the cooler than cool characters and of course the ever popular revenge and honor themes that form the basis for the vast majority of kung fu films are all on display here.
And the next time you throw on 7 Grandmasters, you’ll marvel at how in a few short years the action choreography got so much faster, more complex and artful. In Swordsman, the choreography is sort of a backdrop to the masterful story telling… by the early to mid 70′s, it’s the choreography that tells the story!
Now, thanks to the internet we here in the west are getting a chance to see these great films. Back in the day, you rarely saw any of the pre 1970 films on video (especially up here in Canada) save for maybe Come Drink With Me and One Armed Swordsman, which I remember being a pretty big deal when it was re-released on video.
Not to say these are the only influences in classic martial arts cinema, after all–they were making Wong Fei Hung movies going back as far as the 40′s–but it’s pretty neat to watch Kuo handle the subject matter in a different context, especially when you’re familiar with his later films.
The other interesting thing is the budget. Kuo clearly is working here with a larger budget than in most of his later kung fu films and you can’t help but think what masterpieces he could have crafted if he had access to that kind of financial backing during his golden era. Shaw Brothers, watch out!
On top of that, Swordsman of Swordsmen has some pretty good production values and let’s just say the final fight is epic as all hell and rivals anything you’ve probably seen!
DISCLAIMER: The film is cut into four parts on youtube, probably for quality reasons. They should play in sequence, but if it doesn’t do it automatically you can always click the link in the sidebar. Trust me, it’s worth it!