Directed by Tsui Hark
Produced by Tsui Hark
Written by Tsui Hark, So Man-Sing, and Koan Hui
Cast: Vincent Zhao, Xiong Xin-Xin, Song Lei, Austin Wai, Moses Chan, Chung Bik-Ha, Valerie Chow, Michael Tse , Mama Hung, Chan Chi-Fai, Dickens Chan, and Suet Nei
An orphaned young man that works in a sword factory leaves his job to pursue his father’s killer.
Revenge stories are dime a dozen. Yet, Tsui Hark delivers a tale of revenge at its rawest form. The Blade is a visual manifestation of the emotions that revenge stirs up. Tsui Hark captures visceral emotions in such a naturalistic way that it’s a feat of artistic merit. While it is debatable if violence can ever be beautiful, The Blade’s depiction of violence stripped of its elegance in a world set blazed by chaos is devilishly beautiful. This kind of paradoxical beauty arises as the result of an uncompromising worldbuilding, cinematic direction, and action choreography.
Tsui Hark envisions a world that has gone amok. Civilization has taken a backseat to the enveloping chaos. The value of human life is only a mere commodity. A harsh world that cares little for honor or chivalry. Society has reverted to its primal state. There are hints of a societal collapse. The sheer bleakness might be repellent but it enables all of the heavy emotions to be all the more earnest. The mentally sound are nowhere to be found.
The cinematic direction of The Blade is unconventional. Tsui Hark’s camerawork unfolds in a documentary-like style. The camera maintains a proximity which could be even more emphasized even more by a narrow focal length. Tracking shots are quite common. The camera, on occasions, can be obscured by objects in the world within the work. Over the shoulder shots are quite frequent. Neutral camera angles tend to be de-emphasized in favor of more unique angles. Camera pans could be used instead of editing. The camera is far from static and prefers to be dynamic. The documentary-like style grants us a closer level of immediacy. The irregular cinematic direction taps into the chaotic overtones of rage and fury.
The intertwining personal struggles of Ding On and Siu Ling take us on an eye-opening journey about the perils of pursuing revenge and justice in such a forsaken world. The Blade is the odd wuxia that is told through the point of view of a woman. Siu Ling is the sheltered daughter of Ding Oh’s master. She prefers to live in her own world. Nearly all of the exposition comes in the form of her thoughts and feelings. Her self discovery is the necessary counterpoint to Ding Oh’s revenge-driven arc. Ding Oh and Siu Ling go on opposite personal journeys. Siu Ling’s desire to connect and include people in her ”inner circle”, or ”Jiang Hu”( a Chinese term that’s hard to translate in English) drives her to be close with Ding Oh. Yet, Siu Ling stumbles upon a greater truth that appears to be out of the grasp of everyone else.
Ding Oh is a man that is burdened by the past and a hunger for retribution. His status as an orphan and special treatment that he enjoys under his master makes him an outsider among his peers. Unable to deal with the alienation no longer, Ding Oh heads out on his own but upon which he discovers the ugly truth about his father. In response, Ding Oh vows revenge for the sake of his honor and father. He’s a man without any ”inner circle”. His singled minded obsession with avenging his father’s death leaves little room in his room for an ”inner circle”. Although, he is crippled when he loses an arm, Ding Oh still perseveres on to fulfill his promise of vengeance. Ding Oh stands victorious yet his fate is left ambiguous.
The great truth that Siu Ling finds out is realizing the futility of violence and revenge in a world that is already never-endingly violent. Her final self-reflection is a foreboding warning of such a truth. The Blade warns us to break the cycle of violence. The only answer to breaking that cycle is through love, not violence. Even though, Ding On finds his revenge by killing Flying Dragon. He eventually succumbs probably to the same cycle as well. In the long run, Ding Oh’s vengeance did little or anything to change the world. It provided only a short lived sense of satisfaction.He perpetuates the cycle of violence which seals his fate . The same thing happened to Iron Head. Ling was able to break the cycle by always loving those in her ”inner circle”. It’s Siu Ling the person that never gives into violence that stands the strongest and outlives everyone. Siu Ling rejects the violent nature of the world around her while Ding Oh is unable to reject the violent nature of the world. Siu Ling and Ding Oh’s life stories are a perfect inversion of the personal arc that each person undertakes. One’s story celebrates the glory of vengeance. The other warns of its consequences.
The Blade explores revenge on multiple front such as aesthetically, emotionally, narratively and thematically. Its commitment to its unflinching style keeps its strong on these multiple fronts. The Blade is an anti-revenge story that masquerades perfectly as a revenge fantasy.