6 February 2008 | BrianDanaCamp
THE SUPREME SWORDSMAN - A fairly intense late swordplay film from Shaw Bros.
THE SUPREME SWORDSMAN (1984) was part of the final wave of swordplay films to come out of Shaw Bros. before it wrapped up feature film production in 1985 to focus on television series production. This one's surprisingly focused on its theme and has a relatively small number of main characters. It has the usual hyperactive swordfighting, but few of the fantastic flourishes found in most Shaw costume pictures from that period. Jason Pai Piao plays a swordsman who wants to be Supreme Swordsman and acquire 100 swords from other heroes by killing them in duels and taking their swords. Early on, he reaches 99 and sets his sights on a particular sword and swordmaster. However, the real Supreme Swordsman (Wang Jung), handily defeats Jason, sending him on a quest for a better sword and, in the course of it, finding another key swordmaster (Ku Feng) leading a reclusive life and keeping hidden the treasured Cold Eagle sword of Jason's own Black Magic Clan. Jason, furious at being kept out of the loop on the clan's treasures, now wants that sword. Ku Feng's son, played by Derek Yee, gets into the act and at about the one-hour mark goes off for some needed training in order to take on Jason. And then Jason comes back into the film for the final set of duels.
The first hour had a great deal of momentum, but goes off on a tangent when Derek undergoes new training with a trio of crazy old monks (including kung fu regular Lee Hoi-sang), one of whom has a pretty granddaughter (Li Tien-lang) who becomes Derek's companion. By the time Jason comes back into the fray for the final battle, the initial momentum has dissipated and the film never quite picks it up again.
Still, Jason and Derek have good parts and Ku Feng has one of his best late Shaw roles. Yuen Wah has a good part as well, playing a defeated opponent who becomes Jason's reluctant assistant. The film's got a lot of well-staged action and is one of the few martial arts films made at Shaw after 8-DIAGRAM POLE FIGHTER that focused on a distinct martial arts theme to the exclusion of other plot elements, in this case Jason's pursuit to be the best in his field and defeat all others. The director, Li Pai-ling (aka Keith Li),was making his directorial debut, having been an assistant director beforehand. It's not among the best of late Shaw swordplay films (I'm quite partial to BASTARD SWORDSMAN and RETURN OF THE BASTARD SWORDSMAN myself), but it's a bit different from the others and does have its distinct pleasures.