Excellent film, poor DVD
Johnny Polka | Arizona USA | 05/09/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This film's title caught my eye at the video store and I'm glad I bought it. I could almost swear that this is director He Ping's homage to Sergio Leone and Kurosawa. The pacing, character development, and music are VERY Leone-like.Warning: Try to find a better quality DVD of this film. The quality of this DVD was very disappointing. Reminded me of that crappy copy of ASHES OF TIME I used to own. This is a cheaply made DVD and is NOT worth the money asked. Had the manufacturers spent as much money on the video quality as they had on the nice packaging maybe this DVD would be among my favorite keepsakes."
A martial arts film with substance
curt | 04/30/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This 1990 film by director Ping He (Warriors of Heaven and Earth) is a gem. The production values are high: the rough clothing, the dirt and the dust convey the gritty, harsh qualities of life in this sandstone-walled desert town, not unlike the feeling of Tsui Hark's The Blade or, to a lesser extent, Wong Kar Wai's Ashes of Time. Camera work is gorgeous, with beautifully framed shots of the desert and the scruffy town and its simple, hardscrabble residents.The story unfolds slowly and somewhat predictably, with Haige's arrival, initial rejection by his bride and his future father-in-law turning to grudging respect after Haige defends Haomei's honor. The bad guys--Lethal Swordsman and his gang--have long terrorized the town, and look to Haige to fight LS after he stirs things up by killing LS's brother (this is, after all, a cowboy movie set in the Chinese desert). The pacing, limited dialog and camera style does sorta have a Sergio Leone feel to it, and the spare musical track also fits very well. This is the story of a kid--Haige looks about 15, and his bride-to-be Haomei even younger--who's trying to do the right thing, and in doing so ends up in a situation well beyond his depth and his years. His fear is palpable; as the Lethal Swordsman approaches, you hear his breathing become more rapid and quavering, yet he continues to be a stand-up guy. The two kids, as well as Haomei's father, are sympathetic and immensely likable characters.Though referred to in the above description as a "highly stylized martial-arts film", it's a far cry from the Hong Kong--Shaw Brothers chopsocky of the 70s and 80s. There's not a lot of fighting in the film, and what there is happens very quickly. That's not a criticism; it's just that the fight scenes are more like the samurai one-slash-and-it's-over style than the extended fights one sees in the HK genre. Even the final fight between Haige and Lethal Swordsman happens in a cloud of dust, with the combatants reappearing only after the fight is over. The well-executed buildup of tension before a fight actually begins is also similar to Sergio Leone or the Japanese chambara style. Bottom line is that it's a well-told story with a great cast and cinematography that deserves--and rewards--multiple viewings."