Xu Haofeng’s The Sword Identity is one of the most visually arresting Wu Xia films I have ever seen. While Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Zhang Yimou’s Hero are two films that would probably come to mind when thinking along these lines, yet The Sword Identity is very much far removed from that and manages to captivate in a minimalistic approach. Set in the Ming Dynasty, in the city of Guenchang, we follow a young man who wields a rather large sword, that is neither a traditional sword nor a spear. He comes to challenge the four sword schools of the city, but the master’s of the schools don’t acknowledge his sword and turn him away. The swordsman takes matters into his own hands and does everything in his power to make the schools see that he and his sword are shown respect and honor. Based off of his own book, Xu Haofeng’s The Sword Identity excels in its execution, which manages to balance great action, tons of comedy, and glorious beauty in a film that deserves to be seen.
For some reason the first thing that popped into my head when I saw how action scenes took place and the way the comedy was handled, the first filmmaker I thought of as inspiration for The Sword Identity was Wes Anderson. I know that this seems like an odd comparison, but the way that Haofeng constructs his framing with the action and the delivery of his actors, everything just seemed to fit. The fight scenes happen so quickly and so matter of fact, that they seemed to feel accurate. In the sense that if you just blinked, you’d miss what turned the fight in the winners favor. While I could see someone dismissing the fight choreography as hasty and poorly executed, it seemed as though Xu Haofeng has done the best he could to explore the mental aspects of a fight and how it plays out in one’s mind, rather than typical execution of swords and spears clanging against one another.
Another great thing about The Sword Identity is the great touch of comedy bits sprinkled throughout the film. Comedy has always been a staple in Hong Kong cinema, whether its the insane antics of Stephen Chow’s Shaolin Soccer or the baby antics in John Woo’s Hard Boiled, comedy typically has a place in their films. The Sword Identity is no exception to the rule and does it brilliantly with its side characters and sets up some gags that were enough to make me laugh out loud.
The Sword Identity is unlike any other Wu Xia film I’ve ever seen. Its got striking visuals that will pull you in, an intricate and well told story, as well as some great funny moments. The film provides many things on so many levels and is bound to please anyone that goes out to see it. Highly Recommended!