2023 Old School Kung Fu Fest: THE SWORDSMAN OF ALL SWORDSMEN (1968)

What starts out as a formulaic and fun revenger delivers a hell of an impressive third act!

My first non doc at the 10th Old School Kung Fu Fest was the US Premiere of the Digital Restoration of Joseph Kuo’s (18 Bronzemen and Mystery of Chess Boxing) The Swordsman Of All Swordsmen, a whirlwind of a film that from the description sounded like a lean mean revenger running at 85 minutes. The film follows swordsman Tsai Ying-jie (Tien Peng) who has spent two decades of his life sharpening skills preparing to kill the five men that slaughtered over 60 people, including his father and mother at his family home. Tsai Ying-jie not only wants vengeance, but the Spirit Chasing Sword that was taken from his father after his death.

The first two acts are a brutal by the numbers revenger, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Tsai Ying-jie mows down anyone that crosses his path, whether it be with swords or chopsticks, and the fights are brazenly visceral and cut together with a frantic energy. Ying-jie eventually comes across another swordsman, the Black Dragon (Chiang Nan) — who helps Ying out of a particularly thorny battle and then challenges him to a duel to obtain the title of the number one swordsman, which Ying-jie holds. Dragon agrees to wait till after Tsai finishes his quest, tagging along. All goes according to plan until the third act when he finally confronts the final boss, the ringleader of the gang who organized the massacre. The thing is, he’s blind and sincerely repentant, even handing over the Spirit Chasing Sword without so much as a tussle and offering an arm in penance in exchange for what little of his life is left.

This turns the film and the entire final act on its head as the Ying-jie is then forced to question his entire quest and his moral compass, along with the audience — given the old man is not only incapable of putting up a fight but sincerely regrets his actions against the young man. This is further compounded by his daughter Flying Swallow (Polly Shang-kuan), who not only falls for the swordsman and saves his life, but wishes to save her father as well. That narrative shake up was worth the price of admission and takes a decent by the book revenger and really elevates it into something a bit meatier for fans to chew on. I dug the hell out of this The Swordsman Of All Swordsmen and I am going to try and check out the other two entries in the series also screening as part of the fest.

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