New York Asian Film Festival 2012

The Swift Knight

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The Swift Knight
Lei ru fung | Chung Chang-Wa, 1971
Hong Kong | 81 minutes

In person: director Chung Chang-Wha!

A sweeping Robin Hood epic written in swift sword strokes, King Boxer (Five Fingers of Death) director Chung Chang-Wha regards The Swift Knight as his favorite out of all the movies he directed. It’s a perfect companion piece to King Boxer, since both movies star Shaw Brother’s beautiful brute, Lo Lieh, and whereas Boxer is a barehanded martial arts brawler, The Swift Knight is an elegant swordplay swashbuckler. It’s an anti-one percent film, full of Grand Guignol weaponry, unearthly sunsets painted on interior backdrops, bursts of gold and fuschia that stand in for natural light, and a veritable flock of severed arms sailing through the sky.

Suckville, Ancient China. A land of stunted wastelands surrounding pockets of ill-gotten plenty, where the good have to squat in ruins while the bad get rich. The Swift Knight, who’s like ancient Chinese Batman, steps in to rescue young Xian Qin from being sold into prostitution, but in a world where even the people he rescues try to scam him, nothing is as it seems. A series of color-coded flashbacks reveal that the Swift Knight has just stepped into a big stinking pile of palace intrigue, and soon electric guitars are prowling on the soundtrack as the psycho bloodfreak, Zhu Pao of Hell, enters the picture, distributing hearty portions of ultraviolence, while a ragged beggar reveals that not only is he a better swordsman than your average hobo, but he’s also concealing important secrets.

The Shaw Brothers sets have never looked better, and Chung frames and lights them far more carefully than Chang Cheh ever did. The action is swift, innovative, and open, with constant breaks in the swordplay for opponents to size up each other’s weaknesses and reconsider tactics, while the ending is a spectacular orgy of bloodletting that filches excellent tricks from both King Hu (Dragon Inn) and Sergio Leone (The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly). A rarely-seen, old school classic where every five minutes people have just gotta start stabbing each other or they’ll go insane, The Swift Knight moves at a breathless clip, full of stunts, horse chases, last minute rescues, throbbing horn sections, and Chung Chang-Wha’s indisputable talent.

Series: New York Asian Film Festival 2012

Venue: Walter Reade Theater

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