THE SWORD IDENTITY (2011)
Directed by Haofeng Xu
Chinese Language with English Subtitles
Set during the Ming dynasty, four martial arts schools exist in the city of Guancheng. Wanting to form a new school, Liang Henlu takes on the four masters and their students, to prove his worth of opening a new school, something which every martial artist must do before being allowed to teach their martial art. However, one of the masters spots that Liang is using a sword which they mistakenly believe to be a Japanese sword, a weapon which is forbidden in their country. Despite Liang’s protest that it is only inspired by the Japanese sword and is in fact a Chinese developed weapon by General Qi, a changdao, the masters brand Liang as a Japanese pirate and attempt to force him out of the city. However, Liang’s honour and wish to leave a lasting legacy of General Qi’s changdao by passing on the knowledge of his sword means Liang won’t leave until he gets what he so badly desires.
THE SWORD IDENTITY is a slow-paced historical martial arts drama that has little actual sword play, but opens viewers eyes to the history of the changdao, the weapon that General Qi used to defeat the Japanese that was modelled on their own sword. The difference being that the changdao acts as both a staff and a sword. The use of the weapon is demonstrated throughout the film, though mostly by using the scabbard and the techniques in which the changdao sword is usually wielded. The unsheathed sword skills are left towards the end of the movie when Liang is fully able to demonstrate the use of the sword himself.
For the majority of the film, all four of the martial arts masters and their pupils camp outside a gypsy boat in which Liang is thought to be hiding, only he’s not. Instead, he has a gypsy dancer sitting inside, behind a curtain, and whenever any of the masters or their pupils attempt to charge inside the boat, she knocks them out the with the scabbard of the sword. It’s quite amusing how many attempt to defeat the mysterious ‘Japanese pirate’ on the boat, not knowing that it is a complete novice sitting inside who hasn’t a clue about fighting. With the four masters preoccupied, it gives Liang the chance to explore the city and rescue his commander who has been captured. Other side plots involve a former master who returns to the city to tackle the ‘Japanese pirate’ after living in the mountains, and his wife who’s been having an affair with her bodyguard right from day one.
Despite the lack of intense action, THE SWORD IDENTITY is an enjoyable film that preaches honour, loyalty, valor, tradition and other various qualities that were held in high esteem during that period in time. Their rejection of the unknown weapon is half through fear of what they do not know and understand. This film follows Liang’s quest to share that knowledge.
This film won’t be for everyone and definitely not for those who like their action movies. THE SWORD IDENTITY is a more thoughtful look at the past and origins of the sword, and would be suitable for those who train in Chinese martial arts and enjoy the historical aspect.