Blade of Fury is a peculiar film within the abundant filmography of Sammo Hung Kam-Bo, the director : it was an assignment he took to help Lo Wei, the once-prominent director of two Bruce Lee films, Big Boss and Fist of Fury. Now fallen from grace, Lo Wei needed a well-established director badly to step up and direct this Wu Xia Pan during the early-nineties craze for the costumed epics. In came Sammo Hung, but serendipitously, the plot for Blade of Fury is said to have deeply echoed Hung’s personal beliefs, which he seldom got to express in film, given the often lighter tone of his other films as director. In the film, the legendary Ti Lung plays Tan Szu-Tung a government official travelling to Beijing with his disciple (Cynthia Khan), where advancement awaits him. On the road he meets Wong Wu, a lone swordsman (Yeung Fan), who helps him thwart a bandit raid. It’s the beginning of a friendship that will lead to the two joining forces to try and implement reforms in imperial China.
Coming up with a clear plotline for Blade of Fury is actually pretty difficult, because there are many subplots that lead nowhere and only add a sense of confusion to the proceedings. For most of the movie we see Wong Wu participate in a tournament, found a martial arts school, meet a mysterious lady (Rosamund Kwan) who likes playing the Guzheng, and Tan Szu Tung is mostly absent from these subplots. And then finally in the final quarter of the film the plot refocuses around him and his will for reform that it put to the test by betrayals, but then he has become a secondary character, and not even a dignified and moving performance by the great Ti Lung can make this strand of plot poignant.
And so the plot is a muddle, and often short-circuits itself by leaving aside seemingly important characters for entire half-hours at a time. Which, for a film that runs for one hour and a half, is problematic. Thus Cynthia Khan, a beautiful and charismatic actress in the Michelle Yeoh mould (quite literally : her last name is a reference to Yeoh’s former screen name Michelle Khan), is wasted as Ti Lung’s feisty disciple (blooming inter-generational love between them is suggested but never explored), as is a young Collin Chou as one of Wong Wu’s students. Sammo Hung Kam-Bo himself makes a short appearance as a sentinel with a tendency to over-enunciate. Yeung Fan has the most screen-time, but unfortunately he is devoid of charisma and over-earnest, which only helps sink the film. As for the fights, they are finely choreographed but ridiculously sped-up, and the wires are often glaringly visible, which is all the more jarring as the film presents itself as a down-to-earth political drama. But blatant trickery aside, it was already too simplistic and too muddled to pretend to being that. As a matter of fact it bombed badly upon its release, sinking Lo Wei’s carreer instead of revitalizing it.
Long Story Short : Too overblown and simplistic to succeed as a political drama, too scattershot to even engage the viewer, and with incongruous fights that border on parody with their excessive trickery, Blade of Fury is a failure with only a good cast to redeem it. *1/2