Issue #221a           HOME          E-mail:        BACK ISSUES               July 19th, 2004

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The Master Swordsman
(2001; Mediacorp Studios Production)

Cantonese: Luk Siu-fung: kuet jin chin hau
Mandarin: Lu Xiaofeng: jue zhan qian hou
English: Lu Xiaofeng: Duel Before and After
Alternate English Title: The Master Swordsman Lu Xiaofeng


RATING: 3/10


With the HK period martial arts film still dormant for all intents and purposes, Tai Seng is offering another condensed TV miniseries. This particular one centers around beloved martial hero Lu Xiaofeng, played by baby-faced Taiwanese star Jimmy Lin Chi-ying, who also sings the main title theme. When the kingdom of Jin Peng falls into disorder, minister Yin Zhengdao (Shaw Brothers favorite David Chiang Da-wei) and his entourage set out with a treasure map that reveals where the kingdom's thousands of taels of gold are hidden. While his actions are traitorous on the outside, Yin has done this to ensure that these riches do not fall into the hands of those who crave power, like his fellow minister Duan Yufei (TEMPTATION OF A MONK's Wu Hsin-kuo). Word soon gets out and numerous swordsmen are on the prowl after Yin, eager to get the large bounty placed on his head. While he is a charming sort of rogue, Lu would also like to get his hands on the map and kidnaps Yin's beautiful young daughter, Ziyi (Mainland actress Tao Hong), as a bargaining chip. He quickly falls in love with her and, instead, pledges his allegiance to her father. Although he gains additional allies (including blind swordsman Hua Manlou, played by Thomas Ong), Lu faces a formidable challenge from the Ching Yi clan, which has sway over Lord Zhengnan (DIE ANOTHER DAY's Kenneth Tsang Kong) and is responsible for much betrayal and murder.

Jimmy Lin David Chiang Xiong Xinxin

Co-directed by Daniel Lee Yan-kwong (BLACK MASK), Choi Jung-shin, and veteran action choreographer Ma Yuk-shing, THE MASTER SWORDSMAN is adapted from a twenty episode series, so events fly by at breakneck speed. The effort to accommodate as many of the series' characters as possible also means that they are introduced in a short, choppy sequence and then almost immediately treated as familiar cohorts by the protagonists. With all of the breathing room excised, events, alliances, and betrayals pile up one after another to the point where it merely becomes a chore to keep track of who is behind what. Consequently, the viewer’s interest will likely begin to fade even before the halfway point. Most of the leads lack extensive martial arts experience, so the action sequences rely heavily on quick cuts and tight framing to sell their abilities. While he boasts a sly look and ever-present smile, Jimmy Lin does not have the presence to play such a dynamic figure. His work especially pales beside that of Singapore star Christopher Lee Ming-shun, who is intense and magnetic in the role of invincible but conflicted swordsman Ximen Chuixue. Some effort is made to give the program a look and feel more akin to theatrical productions, the costumes are attractive and the picturesque Shanghai locations are fairly well served by the digital video camerawork (though the dramatic sequences feature rather dull color schemes, which further work against maintaining the viewer's attention). Theresa Lee Yee-hung, Xiong Xinxin, Lam Wai, and Max Mok Siu-chung (whose character apparently played a major role in the narrative but hardly appears in this cut) are also featured. Incidentally, if aspects of the storyline seem familiar, this is based on the same seven volume Gu Lung novel as the big-budget lunar New Year production, THE DUEL (reviewed in issue #116), which featured Nick Cheung Kar-fai doing a more comedic interpretation of Lu Xiaofeng.

Christopher Lee Christopher Lee (left), Wu Hsin-kuo Tao Hong (left), Jimmy Lin


The program (identified onscreen as MASTER SWORDSMAN LU XIAO FENG) is spread across two dual layer discs and the standard digital video image looks fine. The original Mandarin track has been remixed in both Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS; I listened to the former and it nicely embellishes the action setpieces. There is also an English dub in 5.1, a Cantonese version in 2.0 mono, and optional English subtitles; all versions are post-synced. I also monitored the first two hours of Ric Meyers and Frank Djeng's audio commentary, which contained worthwhile background on the source novel, the ways in which this version differs from previous film and television editions, and martial arts in general. However, Meyers makes some sloppy errors and spends most of his time reading items from various websites. There is also a subtitled interview with Christopher Lee and a handful of promo spots.

Images in this review courtesy of Tai Seng. To read captions, hover mouse over image.

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DVD Specifications

  • U.S. Release
  • NTSC Region 1 Only
  • Tai Seng Entertainment
  • Dolby Digital 5.1 & 2.0, DTS
  • Post-synced Cantonese, Mandarin, and English Language
  • Subtitles (Optional): English
  • 27 Chapters in Total
  • Fullscreen (1.33:1) 198 Minutes

Ratings & Consumer Information

  • Nova Scotia: 18
  • Quebec: G
  • Contains moderate violence


  • 10 A Masterpiece
  • 9 Excellent
  • 8 Highly Recommended
  • 7 Very Good
  • 6 Recommended
  • 5 Marginal Recommendation
  • 4 Not Recommended
  • 3 Poor
  • 2 Definitely Not Recommended
  • 1 Dreadful