January 10, 2007


Seven Swords key artSo here comes the SEVEN SWORDS DVD from the Weinstein Company's Dragon Dynasty label and right there on the spine is the number 4. I have to admit it, out of nowhere the Weinsteins have suddenly assembled a DVD imprint like a housing development that springs up overnight. The covers look a little too straight-to-video for me, but the design is consistent between all four titles, they show a lot of range for a martial arts line (three modern movies, one classic; three Hong Kong movies, one Thai) and each disc comes with respectable extras. No "Animated Menus!" listed as an extra, no "Star Bios!". Each disc has pros and cons but more often than not the pros far outweigh the cons, especially in the case of SHA PO LANG (aka KILLZONE) and POLICE STORY (not enough insightful extras, but at least the movie is out on an official Region 1 disc). And now they've gone and done a two disc version of Tsui Hark's SEVEN SWORDS.

My feelings on this movie are so mixed they may as well be a margarita. Produced with what looks like an unlimited budget, crammed with good-looking actors, action designed by Lau Kar-leung with assists from Xiong Xin-xin, Tung Wai and Donnie Yen, and with Tsui Hark at the helm of an evergreen story (basically THE SEVEN SAMURAI) this flick is custom designed to make me excited in a "Not suitable for children" way. So viewing this exhausting, two-and-a-half hour movie with its choppy storyline and shallow characters was a comedown of epic proportions. You can read my original review, but rewatching it again there were two things that leapt to mind. The first was that the action was far better than I originally thought. Watch the movie without expectations and most of the action cracks along, flowing like a river, with some neat character bits and camera tricks bobbing around. The other thing I noticed was that the characterizations were even shallower than I had originally believed. This production was such an epic that pulling it off at all was a well nigh impossible feat, so perhaps it's too much to expect Tsui to pull it off well.

Seven Swords

But you're here to read about the disc: is it tasty, does it blow, what's on it? This is as definitive an edition of SEVEN SWORDS as we're going to get until someone releases the 4 hour version. It seems to have the "Making of" and "Behind the Scenes" material ported over from the Hong Kong discs and they're terrific. I wish someone had edited them into one, massive, behind-the-scenes look at the film but they have plenty of behind-the-scenes glimpses of the production with some nice looks at the wirework and camera rigs that were used to pull off the special effects and a lot of shots of the actors and crew suffering for their art. There's also an exhaustive interview with Tsui Hark, running 45 minutes, where he just talks. And talks. And talks. His English is great and he rabbits on about anything you could possibly want to know. There're interviews with a few other people from the film but who cares? This is Tsui Hark's show.

The two best special features are the audio commentary and the deleted and extended scenes - but one of them was so depressing that I would rather be consumed by wild weasels than sit through it again. The deleted and extended scenes aren't available anywhere else. From what I understand, Tsui Hark provided them for this DVD and they are:

- Master Fu Stealing the Tags
- Master Fu's Night Fight in Village (extended)
- Attack on the Village
- Great Hall Battle (extended)
- Chu's Great Hall Battle (alternate version)
- Death of Luzhu
- Final Fight Scene (alternate version)

Running a few minutes each, these are MOS (the score plays over them) but the picture looks good. They haven't been digitally fixed so you can see which weapons were CGI and the wires are still visible, but they're really interesting glimpses at how Tsui Hark does what he's best at doing: taking his footage and assembling it and re-assembling it like a jigsaw puzzle. I wish there had been some context for why these assemblies didn't work, or why they were cut, but they're a nice addition and unique to this release.

Seven Swords

Then there's the audio commentary with Tsui Hark and Bey Logan. I haven't heard a Tsui Hark audio commentary before but he was great here, full of stories, philosophies, and context for what he was trying to do and what came across onscreen. He's surprisingly undefensive, and critical of his own work. Between this and his interview you can see the movie he had in his head and how much better it might have been than what wound up onscreen.

But there's a problem. See, I talk a lot and in 2007 I've resolved to talk less and interrupt other people only when absolutely necessary. Please, dear God, someone force Bey Logan to make this resolution. I like Bey and I think his heart's in the right place, but he needs to stop talking because his fannish gushing sinks this commentary. On more than one occasion, Tsui Hark starts a story and is interrupted within seconds by Bey Logan reacting to something he sees onscreen. Once Tsui Hark starts talking about how the great battle in the hall where we're introduced to the seven swordsmen for the first time is a major disappointment for him and Bey interrupts to say how some shot is his favorite in the movie. We never get the rest of Tsui's story. In another sequence, Tsui Hark starts to talk about how hard it was to direct Donnie Yen but before you can hear any juicy details, that he seems happy to spill, Bey interrupts him to comment on a camera movement. Why was it hard to direct Donnie? We'll never know. It's exhausting, it's frustrating, and it happens over and over again.

By the end of the commentary Bey is talking on and on, reacting to things onscreen with genuine enthusiasm but not a lot of behind-the-scene knowledge, and Tsui is giving monosyllabic replies punctuated by bursts of conversation that soon get hijacked by Bey and driven down dead end roads.

I love Tsui Hark. I think he's one of the 20th Century's Great Directors (see?) and the idea of him providing audio commentaries for his films is the kind of idea that makes me sweaty and feverish. But this audio commentary was so frustrating that I gave up on it and that's too bad. There's a lot of good information here, but Bey does it a disservice. I'm sorry to go on and on about this but I was so frustrated by this that I just can't shut up about it.

Seven Swords

FINAL VERDICT - this is a good version of the film, with a lot of nice one-on-one material with Tsui Hark and most of the worthwhile behind-the-scenes material ported over from the HK disc. The deleted scenes are terrific, and the only disappointment is the audio commentary which features too much of the interviewer and not enough of the interviewee.

January 10, 2007 at 10:36 AM in DVD Reviews | Permalink


So Bey Logan seems to be filling the same role here that Brett Ratner filled on the Police Story commentary: getting in the way of the guy with actual information to share. That's a shame. You can get some undiluted Tsui Hark commentary action on the R1 TIME & TIDE DVD, which is a good listen - that film was also cut down from a much, much longer running time for theatrical release. I guess I'll pick this up, if only because the second I buy this version, someone, somewhere will announce that the extended SEVEN SWORDS cut I've been waiting for is coming out.

Posted by: Rhythm-X | Jan 10, 2007 12:48:08 PM

I'm sure the action was amazing on set. But they were shot and edited so badly it was impossible to follow any of it.

Posted by: Andrew Cunningham | Jan 10, 2007 12:56:14 PM

I thought Seven Swords was a fun watch although I must've seen the shortest version. Mind I don't get all technical about films - flimsy characters, multiple plot holes, disjointed storylines, etc. - although too much of that does destroy the movie experience. The "abridged" version sure did seem to cram too much story into too short a project, you end up not caring what happens to the secondary or tertiary characters. I can't even recall what was the mission of the seven swordsmen...

Posted by: gurl | Jan 10, 2007 1:12:05 PM

Grady, thank you for this review. I have ideas on why it is difficult to direct Donnie Yen, ahahahhahaha

Posted by: elizabennet | Jan 11, 2007 1:16:33 AM

"I have ideas on why it is difficult to direct Donnie Yen, ahahahhahaha"

cause he's so amazing? and cool? and amazing?

Posted by: daniel | Jan 11, 2007 2:29:38 PM

Oh, eb, there you go again. Really, this Donnie dislike is chronic. Hahaha. :)

If I recall Donnie had some 'not nice' things to say about Tsui Hark quite a while back. I think he said that they didn't get along or that Tsui wasn't easy to get along with. Maybe these two just butt heads and that's the way it is. I think Hark had an 'iffy' thing with Jet Li as well, didn't he? Way back in the 'Once Upon A Time In China' days. But Hark and his wife did expecially want Donnie for this part and called him. Having worked with him in the past, nothing should really have been a surprise.

I'll rent the extras disc on this one. Thx for the review, Grady. And yes...Bey Logan interrupts too much! Who knows, he may have steered away from whatever Hark had to say about Donnie and that's too bad. I would have loved to have heard that. It's probably not as bad as anyone would assume or I doubt he'd bring it up.

I could swear there's another edition of SS with Tsui Hark commentary out there.

I liked SS as a general film. I've grown to like it. The cuts are annoying, but not insurmountable in following the basic plot. Although that scene with the freeing of the horses was completely unnecessary and much too long. Time that could have been better used for other things. I won't buy it again though.

Posted by: Screamingmimi | Jan 11, 2007 2:31:44 PM

I have to agree with you Grady, listening to any commentary that has Bey Logan with it is just frustrating. I love hearing that behind the scenes stuff, the anecdotes or what was in the guy's head when he did such and such. If he interrupts like he did with the FoF tv series and Kung Fu Master...then that's a damn shame. Though I'm happy Dragon Dynasty's putting in the effort they are with this. Makes me wonder about DTG. Pretty sure TWC has the rights to it.

Posted by: Chelle | Jan 11, 2007 4:33:18 PM

Well, I'm sorry if I have offended Donnie supporters but yeah, Tsui Hark and Donnie worked together at Once Upon A Time in China II (to me Donnie's finest hour as a martial art actor) and I heard Donnie saying a lot of things about his scenes with Jet (like how the good stuff was his idea, like how Jet chose the lighter bamboo sticks etc.) - This interview is in Iron Monkey R2 dvd extra features.

Directing Donnie maybe hard because he has a big ego and thinks the knows best (again I got this idea through his interviews)

But I actually (to my suprise) liked Donnie in Dragon Tiger Gate, not only the martial art careography was brilliant, but also Wilson Yip finally made him look like he is acting.

I have never purchased a Dragon Dynasty dvd yet but I'm seriously tempted for this one. But I'll wait for a while to see whether a longer version will come out or not.

Posted by: eliza bennet | Jan 11, 2007 11:59:11 PM

I hate to disappoint you, Eliza, but from what I could tell on the extras with this disc, it doesn't seem like the four hour version is ever going to come out. From Bey and Tsui's references to it I got the feeling that the effects were never finished on it and that it never made it much past a rough assemblage.

It seems unlikely that someone's going to spend the time and money finishing it.

Posted by: Grady Hendrix | Jan 12, 2007 5:18:09 AM

But, Eliza, Jet and Tsui also had a big falling out and I know you like Jet. Does Jet have a huge ego as well because he didn't like Hark taking credit for 'making' him?

I agree with Grady. I don't think the four hour version will ever happen. I'm not sure I'd want it anyway.

Posted by: Screamingmimi | Jan 12, 2007 11:59:42 AM

Tsui Hark did a commentary on Time and Tide, and Jeebus help us, it's one of the most frustrating commentaries I've ever heard. Tsui describes in clinical detail how he shot scenes of the characters talking while driving, but doesn't say a single word about how the breathtaking shot that follows a guy out the window and down the side of the building was done.

Posted by: Scott Hamilton | Jan 12, 2007 3:22:06 PM

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