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笑傲江湖II東方不敗 (1992)
Swordsman 2

Reviewed by: bkasten
Date: 11/07/2012

Long running television series adaptations have traditionally been successful in conveying the sense of the depth and complexity of a Jin Yong novel to the "small screen". And while creating an actual film screenplay out of something so voluminous seems like folly, the stories are so thoroughly compelling that it is indeed possible to adapt some of the key elements from the novel and turn them into compelling and effective cinematic screenplays. I believe Chor Yuen did a great job with Gu Long's wuxia novels in the 70s.

In the case of this film, the high points of the Jin Yong novel (which is referred to in English as "The Smiling Proud Wanderer") are touched upon. The names and general traits of the key personalities are the same, and some of the main plot strands are intact. But otherwise, this is a highly stylized adaptation that does not quite follow the actual novel's plot arc.

The film starts off with a rather confused and frenetic pace. By about 20 minutes into the film, it is not really clear what is going on. A bit of frustration will likely set in as the action is dark and shadowy, highly undercranked, and very...very...dark blue. And it would appear that all of this is consciously done by the filmmaker to impart an otherworldly feel--to make certain the viewer is aware that this is taking place in something resembling a dream sequence or a dreamscape. And indeed this film's techniques serve as one of a number of examples of that cinematic era's attempt to create an updated version of the alternate world in which the wuxia stories takes place. This is colloquially referred to as (which directly romanizes in Mandarin to) Jianghu [river-lake]).

Beyond that initial confusion, and some typically awkward humor, (both of which mercifully fade away as the film progresses) the story begins to take shape and we start to see the relationships between the various key players.

The main protagonist is Linghu Chong played by Jet Li Lian-Jie in what is one of his better attempts at playing a lighthearted and nearly invincible character. While his lack of screen presence (at least back in that era) may have actually helped to make his characterization a little more believable, his limited dynamic range as an actor makes the happy go lucky nature of the character slightly less believable. But overall, Jet is very solid and enjoyable in this role, and it should not be minimized!

The stunning Michelle Reis, appears here at 21 years old, only three years after winning the Miss Hong Kong title, playing Yue Lingshan to absolute perfection. I believe it stands as one of her more notable performances.

And as incredible as Michellle Reis's on-screen beauty is, even more so is that of the cinematic goddess Rosamund Kwan Chi-Lam well cast as Ren Yingying from the Sun Moon Holy Cult.

The appearance of the wonderful and absolutely awesome bad-guy Yen Shi-Kwan as the megalomaniacal and nearly invincible Ren Woxing made for an award winning supporting role.

But it is, by far, the demigod-like invincible antagonist Dongfang Bubai played by Brigitte Lin Ching-Hsia in exquisitely subtle fashion that makes this film. Her performance and the emotionally complex interactions with Jet Li's character are at the core of this film's true greatness.

While aspects of the film have not aged as well as others, certain things never age.

Ultimately, the compelling nature of this screenplay is the adaptation of key parts of the the novel along with the love story that develops and progresses with the protagonist. That, combined with excellent performances of two of the most beautiful actresses to appear on film, the superbly over-the-top bad-guy performance of Yen Shi-Kwan...and finally the brilliant subtlety of Brigitte Lin Ching-Hsia's performance.

Apart from the first 20 minutes of too-much-blueness and confusion, this film is spectacular.

As can be seen from the reviews on this film from HKMDB's past, a number of people were inspired by this film to become lifelong HK cinema fans.

[This review is dedicated to my friend Carmen in Hong Kong, who gave me the idea to watch this film again.]

Reviewer Score: 9

Reviewed by: Hyomil
Date: 04/07/2011

Reviewer Score: 6

Reviewed by: Jackal
Date: 05/26/2007
Summary: Super

This very beautiful, entertainment and scale drama in genre wuxia. The Film more 10 years, but without use computer technology even, he surprises the beauty a suit and window dressing, brightness of the personages. The Chin Siu Tung - a great cinematographer. The Normal combat scenes in film practically no, and the main personages fought, basically, by means of magics and incantation, set which much hich. Magic, beautiful and seizing cinema.

Reviewer Score: 10

Reviewed by: mrblue
Date: 09/17/2005

The second installment of this popular trilogy, even though it features almost a totally different cast, continues the storyline of the first movie. The swordsman of the title, a man named Ling (Jet Li), along with his trusted group of fellow warriors are on the hunt for a mystical scroll which will give its bearer near-unlimited power. A villain called Asia the Invincible (Brigitte Lin) gets the scroll first, and finds out that there's a catch to the power -- the user must become a euneuch. Asia does so, and finds himself transforming into a woman as s/he gains more power. S/he also finds him/herself attracted to Ling, which sets up a conflict of interest as the final confrontation draws near.

This was actually one of the first Hong Kong movies I watched (besides the innumerable old-school movies most of us saw back on the old "Kung Fu Theatre" shows). While I would not say it was a life-changing experience, it definitely changed my movie viewing habits forever. Fights were no longer confined to the ground; they could occur any and everywhere. A movie didn't have to be just one genre; they could mix up all manners of style and still be coherent. Women could have just as much power and fury as their male counterparts in movies, sometimes even more. Of course, these ideas are pretty commonplace in the western movie lexicon, especially after the success of east/west hybrids like The Matrix, but when I first saw this movie several years ago it floored me.

As for today, it still holds up well. The story -- like many wuxia films -- seems a bit too convoluted for its own good (at least to my western pallette); there's a few too many characters (and their respective plotlines) in the mix. The novel which the trilogy is based on clocks in around 2000 pages, and while the movie is not as claustrophobic as the first, it still feels a bit cluttered, as the filmmakers perhaps stuck a few too many characters into the movie stew. However, the movie sports Jet Li in one of his better and more unique roles (he actually kisses a girl in here) and a breathtaking performance from Brigitte Lin. Lin has a very minimalistic acting style, especially when compared with many other melodramatic Hong Kong actors -- she can accomplish a hell of a lot just by glaring at the camera in the right fashion.

Along with the solid acting, the action featured here is just simply fantastic. In an impressive career which has included directing (either outright or via way of action co-ordination) such movies as Duel to the Death, A Chinese Ghost Story, Dragon Inn, A Better Tomorrow 2 and The Killer (just to name a few), the scenes in Swordsman II stands out as some of Ching Siu-Tung's (and the Hong Kong industry in general) best work. Even if you don't normally like wuxia or wire fu movies, you should really check this film out.

[review from]

Reviewed by: MrBooth
Date: 07/16/2005
Summary: 9/10 - Classic

I feel like I achieved a major milestone in life - I finally understood Swordsman II! Not just the overall story, which I probably got on the 2nd or 3rd viewing, but the whole thing - every character, every scene... it all made sense! It's not because I've suddenly become fluent in Cantonese, or somehow found a release with good subtitles (in fact the subs on Mei Ah's remaster are amongst the worst I've seen)... partly it's because it's about the 6th time I've seen the film and eventually it had to sink in, but mostly it's because I watched Swordsman I (1990) a few days earlier.

Watching a part 1 before a part 2 might not sound like a radical idea, but it's very common to see people recommend that a newbie skip Part 1 and go straight to the more famous sequel with this series. That's an injustice to the first film, which is actually well worth seeing, but more of an injustice to the viewer who is dumped into the story with far too many characters to get familiar with and lousy subtitles to help them do it. Whilst the story of Swordsman II is basically independent, the familiarity with some of the characters and their backgrounds definitely helps to put the whole thing into perspective - even if those characters are all played by different actors in the sequel :p (except poor Fennie Yuen, who must have felt quite odd being the only person reprising her role).

Now that I've fully understood the film - the whole story and how each character came to be where they are - I have an entirely new appreciation for it. It's fantastic! First time I saw it I was blown away by the visual style and the insane action, but thought it made absolutely no sense whatsoever, and on subsequent viewings the visual aspect became less and less satisfying and the lack of narrative more troublesome, so I liked it less and less. This time the scope and power of the story made everything so much more impactful, and I finally understand why it's considered to be in the very highest ranks of swordplay films.

The main reason SWORDSMAN II is such an accomplishment is because it succeeds in capturing the spirit of the Jiang Hu in a way that few other films can manage, and in conveying the incredible powers that the martial arts masters of wu xia fiction are said to have possessed. The main theme of the film, as with so many wu xia stories, is the futility of striving for the power, fame and glory that comes with mastery of the martial arts world. The main character, Ling (played by Sam Hui in the original and Jet Li here) is a carefree fellow with no great ambitions - he just wants to have a good time. In both films he gets caught up in the middle of power plays between folks seeking dominance, with a secret scroll that can teach supernatural martial arts powers being seen as the key. In the second film the scroll has come into the possession of a ruthless tyrant, Asia The Invincible, who will stop at nothing to achieve power - including saying goodbye to his "little general"! The casting of Brigitte Lin as Asia The Invincible was a brilliant move, and her performance is easily the most memorable part of the film. Asia becomes much more than the usual mad villain in her hands (and more importantly, her eyes), and she can rightly be called the soul of the film. Which is lucky, because leading man Jet Li seems very uncomfortable with his character for most of the running time. The vanity, the arrogance, the ambition and ultimately the tragedy of Asia The Invincible is what makes the film truly great.

Jet Li has admitted on his web page that he never really understood the character of Ling, a drinker and a womanizer that's definitely at odds with Jet's real persona (or the one he'd like us to believe is real at least :p). I'd always felt that from watching the film too - seeing him laughing and drinking and flirting, I'd never been convinced by his performance, and consider it his weakest role. Towards the end when things turn nasty and he has to get more serious & focussed he does a much better job, but I still wouldn't recommend SWORDSMAN 2 if somebody were asking for "good Jet Li Films". In some ways I'd rather Sam Hui had stayed in the role (though I wasn't too keen on him in S1... maybe somebody else entirely was needed but I can't think of anyone around at the time who would have fit the role better)

Other characters who have a body-change between the first two films are "Kiddo" (Cecilia Yip to Michelle Reis, slight positive change) and Ying (Sharla Cheung Man to Rosamund Kwan, slight negative). Yen Shi Kwan's unforgettable appearance more than compensates for the loss of Lau Shun.

The main aspect in which SWORDSMAN 2 is truly superlative is the depiction of the fanstastic martial arts power of the wu xia fighters in Jin Yong's novel. The first film was a brave attempt to establish a new visual style in fantasy martial arts, but was still a bit rough around the edges - particularly the editing of the action scenes. SWORDSMAN 2 gets it mostly right, and the sense of the incredible power the characters wield is sometimes jaw-dropping. From the subtler moments such as Chin Kar Lok running on the tips of a grass field to the outrageous moments, such as Yen Shi Kwan tearing an enormous chunk out of the ground and hurling it as a weapon, the design of the action will impress all but the most unimaginative viewers. There are definitely times when things look cheap, especially some obvious miniatures and gratuitous speed-up, and the camera could have done with being mounted a little more firmly in places, but for the most part the film looks stunning. It doesn't have the same kind of formal beauty you'd find in a King Hu or Chor Yuen wu xia film, but that's the point - they were trying to create a new style, a proper "new wave". SWORDSMAN II and DRAGON INN '92 (from the same team) probably represent the aesthetic pinnacle of that wave (with Wong Kar Wai's ASHES OF TIME being the main contender), and it wasn't really until Ang Lee and Zhang Yimou had a go that the bar was raised - thanks as much to bigger budgets and newer technology as anything.

I'd be interested to see what Tsui Hark & Ching Siu-Tung came up with if they decided to revisit this story and style today, with the technology to iron out those kinks and rough edges their groundbreaking 90's films had. However, the experience of LEGEND OF ZU has left me very wary - perhaps it's the low tech that forced them to create such imaginative ways of filming the action in the first place? Anyway, where would they find actors to fill Brigitte Lin or Yen Shi-Kwan's shoes today?

Reviewer Score: 9

Reviewed by: balstino
Date: 05/02/2003
Summary: Class

This film has everything. The fights are superb and all the other elements really work together well. Watch the first one for background on the character relationships. This baby, gets better on each viewing!

Reviewed by: pjshimmer
Date: 03/08/2002
Summary: Brigitte Lin has never looked fatter

One of the most lavish HK productions ever, Swordsman 2 is a movie full of flaws but more than makes up for them with its class and production values. Even compared to today's productions, Swordsman 2 looks VERY good. The storyline is the most flawed part, but the new wave action is incredible. It is one of the only movies in which Jet Li even touches a sword, and anything he touches pretty much becomes a masterpiece. I'd say that this is one of the top 5 swordplay movies of all time. Everything moves quickly, and the movie does not rely on humor (like most HK period movies do) to stimulate the audience. There's not much emotion thrown in either, so the viewer is not to feel too involved (which is great!). If it weren't for the huge flaws in the plot, the movie would have been a masterpiece too. NOW On a personal note, I would really like to thank this movie for getting me started again on all these great HK Kung Fu movies. If it wasn't for Swordsman II, I'd definitely have missed some of the best! I've watched this film multiple times since I obtained it, and have not gotten tired of rewatching. Despite the flaws, Swordsman 2 is still one of the best movies HK ever put out. One of my favorite, highly recommended.


Reviewed by: cho
Date: 10/30/2001
Summary: good action, weak plot

The only thing connected this movie to its prequel are the characters, and the music, other than that this a completely different movie.

I'd consider this movie different, not bad, but certainly not good. Some of the greatest flying sequences you'll see here. The theme in the first one is corruption, but this one I don't know what (love?). Jet Li is great here. Flying with wires, he's invincible.

It's worth seeing once, just don't think it's in continuity with Swordsman I.

Reviewed by: Sydneyguy
Date: 05/05/2001
Summary: Very entertaining!!

There is a LOT of action here, almost like it was a video game some of the moves!!
REALLY, at the end, they had NO chance against Invinsible Asia!!
All the actors in this play their parts very well but this isn't a perect movie. I think it lacks a bit of plot!! But oh well, maybe i am too picky!!


Reviewer Score: 8

Reviewed by: hkcinema
Date: 12/08/1999

Jet Lee plays the boozy blademaster who once again finds himselfinvolved in the quest for the magical Sacred Scrolls. Brigitte Lin stars in a tailor-made role as a villainous sorcerer who slowly transmogrifies into a woman as the story progresses! Ching continues to find new ways to slice and dice people (and even horses) in this lively, blood-soaked fantasy.

[Reviewed by Rim Films Catalog]

Reviewed by: hkcinema
Date: 12/08/1999

All I can say is...I thought a horse being split in half would be a lot bloodier. A love story that did not belong anywhere near this movie is right in the middle of it. Gee, I'd fall in love with someone I just met and didn't understand me too. The action is great, but a stronger story would have been very welcome.


[Reviewed by Dale Whitehouse]

Reviewed by: hkcinema
Date: 12/08/1999

One of the best of the early 1990s' martial arts/wuxia glut, though still badly flawed, as with many of Tsui Hark's films. In a shrewd piece of casting, Brigitte Lin steals the show as Invincible Asia, who plans to take over China using his/her newly acquired transcendental martial arts, and some disaffected ninjas (a gratuitous addition to the story, which were not in the novel). Also memorable is Ching Siu-Tung's choreography, the ominous score, and some extravagant effects. Viewers' patience will be tested by a fair bit of intermittent banality, and a story that is unlikely to make much sense on first viewing.

[Reviewed by Iain Sinclair]

Reviewed by: spinali
Date: 12/08/1999
Summary: NULL

Martial artist par excellence Jet Li pits his skills against Brigitte Lin, who has gained supernatural powers at the expense of changing her sex. The object: magical Sacred Scrolls which bestow untold power upon their possessor. Brigitte owns the scrolls, of course, and suspicion draws him/her into inevitable violence. The film has an arresting visual style.


[Reviewed by Steve Spinali]

Reviewer Score: 7