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  Liquid Sword Kung fooleryBuy this film here.
Year: 1993
Director: Wong Jing
Stars: Aaron Kwok, Chingamy Yau, Anita Yuen, Sharla Cheung Man, Deric Wan Siu-Lun, Gloria Yip, Winnie Lau, Wong Wan-Si, Loletta Lee, Norman Tsui Siu-Keung, Gordon Liu, Lau Ji-Wai, Julian Cheung, Fennie Yuen Kit-Ying, Mai Kei
Genre: Comedy, Martial Arts, Weirdo, Fantasy, Adventure
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: To prove he is the greatest swordsman in China, Fragrant Chu (Aaron Kwok) journeys to a martial arts tournament accompanied by his three adoring beautiful sisters: Red (Anita Yuen), Sweetie (Winnie Lau) and Ron (Gloria Yip). Er, Ron? Really? Um, okay. Anyway, there Chu's ultimate goal will be to defeat Flowerless (Chingamy Yau), a mystical martial arts master so enigmatic no-one has yet figured out 'he' is really a beautiful woman. Even though it is pretty obvious. Anyway, on their way to the tournament Chu picks up a sidekick in Hu (Deric Wan Siu-Lun), an uncouth wanderer with a backpack full of gadgets. Hu is instantly smitten with an unimpressed Red. After encounters with an array of outlandish opponents, Chu wins the heart of Flowerless by matching her blow for blow in a spectacular fight where they bounce off the backs of charging monks, jump from the tips of spears and surf on flying swords. Thereafter Flowerless adopts a feminine alter-ego as Night Bloom, proving a useful ally when Chu and his master (Norman Tsui Siu-Keung) are targeted by a blood-sucking vampire out for revenge. Bet you didn't see that coming.

Shortly after Swordsman II: Invincible Asia (1992) revived the wu xia (swordplay) genre film studios across Hong Kong began cranking out wire fu epics of varying quality. Enter prolific schlockmeister Wong Jing. In a year when Wong released no less than nine feature films in local theatres, Liquid Sword was one of his three cash-ins on the wu xia craze. The other two being the female-centric Seven Maidens and Jet Li-led Kung Fu Cult Master. Here Wong hitched his wagon to rising star Aaron Kwok, then affectionately known by Chinese fans as one of the "four kings of Cantopop" (along with Andy Lau, Leon Lai and Jacky Cheung). Although according to disgruntled western kung fu film purists they earned that nickname "because they are no four-king good." Boom-tish! Neither Aaron nor Liquid Sword were looked on very kindly at the time, although it is likely hip-hop artist GZA from the Wu Tang Clan was a fan since he lifted the title for his solo album. At least Aaron went on to prove himself a highly capable actor, scoring plaudits for an empathetic performance in The Barefoot Kid (1993) and a Hong Kong Film Academy award as Best Actor in After This Our Exile (2006).

Unlike Aaron's acting talents no such reappraisal likely awaits Liquid Sword. It still comes across a hodgepodge of juvenile comedy skits strung together by a ramshackle wu xia plot in egregiously haphazard fashion. In short: typical Wong Jing fare. To its (mild) credit the film does have that distinctive breakneck, dozen cuts a second HK New Wave pace liable to induce wistful nostalgia in fans unimpressed with the more solemn and stately mainland Chinese-sanctioned wu xia flicks made today. Things start out relatively sober then take a left-turn to wacky town as Wong wheels out various special guest stars spoofing roles they have played umpteen times before: Gordon Liu as a mystical monk (who melts into silver goo and explodes quite impressively), Sharla Cheung Man as Jellyfish a ridiculously named cult leader in flowing gold robes, and Fennie Yuen Kit-Ying as a rival swordswoman beaten by then falling hopelessly in love with the dashing Chu (yes, another one). It is jarring enough this marks one of the few instances where Aaron Kwok gets to smile on screen, but here he mugs like Marty Feldman through a string of far from sophisticated slapstick episodes. At the time Wong was aggressively promoting his then-girlfriend Chingamy Yau as a star, casting her in a slew of films (e.g. Naked Killer (1992), City Hunter (1992), New Legend of Shaolin (1994), Satan Returns (1996)). Happily the actress had genuine talent and charisma and, as in other Wong Jing productions, proves among the best performers in an over-crowded ensemble. The film is also notable for providing an early role for Anita Yuen soon to become HK cinema's Nineties It-Girl du jour following her breakout turn in Derek Yee's award-winning romance C'est la vie, Mon Cherie (1993).

A few of the gravity-defying wire fu set-pieces, choreographed by Lau Shung-Fung, stack up pretty well alongside the more celebrated genre offerings of the day. However, what plot there is too often stops dead in its tracks so Wong can pad out the running time with yet another feeble skit. Liquid Sword takes an entire hour just to introduce its villain, the improbably-named Batman (Lau Ji-Wai): a pasty-faced vampire who flies with the aid of a winged black cape, then ends on an abrupt sequel-baiting cliffhanger Wong never bothered to resolve. Even so it has its fair share of memorable, dare one say even accomplished moments. These include a steamy if surreal sequence wherein Night Bloom suspends a half-naked Chu in mid-air as part of a magical healing ritual amidst much sensual slow-motion, dry ice and lingering close-ups of skin-on-skin. Also the jaw-dropping finale in which one character is reincarnated as Jesus Christ complete with giant crucifix and Andrew Lloyd Webber theme song! Incidentally, Wong Jing cites the movie adaptation of Jesus Christ Superstar (1973) as one of his favourite films. And its director Norman Jewison as the filmmaker that most influenced his own work. Seriously, figure that out.

Reviewer: Andrew Pragasam

 

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