Hong Kong Cinema


Laughing and Proud Warrior

  • Made: 1990
  • Format: DVD (Region 0)
  • Release Date: 24 October 2000
  • Company: Megastar
  • Length: 119 mins
  • Picture: Widescreen Letterboxed
  • Language: English Subtitles
  • Extras: Star Bios, Trailers, Chapters
  • Classification: Cat II


King Hu, Ann Hui, Ching Siu-tung, Tsui Hark, Raymond Lee, Andrew Kam


Samuel Hui, Cecilia Yip, Jacky Cheung, Sharla Cheung Man, Fennie Yen, Lau Siu Ming, Yuen Wah, Lau Shun, Lam Ching Ying, Wu Ma

Swordsman is a film that is commonly viewed for its importance rather than for its merits. It set the tone for mystical wuxia swordplay flicks for the rest of the 1990's (see New Dragon Gate Inn) and spawned two sequels. Swordsman took a respectable HK $16,052,000 in a 6 week run and outperformed many other notable martial arts film that year (Skinny Tiger, Fatty Dragon, and Pantyhose Hero).

Although the credits suggest a solitary director, the directing for this movie is a story in itself. Unfortunately, due to 'artistic differences' King Hu (Come Drink with Me, Touch of Zen) left the project under a cloud of controversy and Ann Hui, Ching Siu-tung, Tsui Hark, Raymond Lee and Andrew Kam all pitched in for directorial duties. Unfortunately this does show in the film, but it does not prevent it from being a thoroughly engaging spectacle. Swordsman Ling (The Laughing and Proud Warrior) is played capably by Samuel Hui (Aces Go Places), and Cecilia Yip (Winners and Sinners) is Ling's 'little brother' Kiddo.

Perhaps the strongest performance goes to Jacky Cheung (Bullet in the Head) who plays the villain of the piece. He managed to win a Golden Horse as Best Newcomer in this film, although, apparently two out of the six directors did not know he was even in the film! Yuen Wah (Zhor) and Lau Siu Ming (Ngok) also provide support as the bad guys. Plus, Lau Shun plays the evil Eunuch character that clearly was inherited by Donnie Yen for Dragon Inn and Tai Chi Master. The beautiful Fennie Yen (Blue Phoenix) and Sharla Cheung Man (Ying) provide ample eye-candy as members of the Sun Moon Sect. Many will watch this film purely for the 15 minute cameo by veteran Wu Ma (Encounters of a Spooky Kind) and the late Lam Ching Ying (Prodigal Son) which is a highlight of this erratic work.

Swordsman Ling

Elder Kuk (Lam Ching Ying + Beard)


The Sacred Scroll is stolen from Forbidden City and the Royal Eunuchs want it back. The scroll offers many supernatural powers to those who study it. The Eunuchs look for a scapegoat and decide to lay siege on a recently retired officer and try to escape censure from the authorities by killing him and his family and claiming he was a member of the Sun Moon Sect (a dangerous bunch of Highlanders). It is too late however, as Swordsman Ling and Kiddo are involved after travelling from the Wah Mountain. Ling and Kiddo manage to escape with special information, but the traitorous Zhor (Yuen Wah) and his five rangers are in hot pursuit. Ling and Kiddo leave on a boat with Lau (Wu Ma) and Elder Kuk (Lam Ching Ying). After a fight at sea, both Lau and Kuk are mortally wounded by Zhor and they pass on the score for the captivating 'Hero of Heroes'.

The final clash between Swordsman Ling and Ngok

Unfortunately, Ling's master, Ngok gets word of the Sacred Scroll and he is prepared to betray his troops for his own glory. To make matters worse Ah Yeung (Jacky Cheung) has gone in disguise to deceive Ling into revealing the whereabouts of the Sacred Scroll. There is hope though, as Ying and Blue Phoenix (Sun Moon Sect) are initially concerned as to why Ling has Elder Kuk's instrument, but they soon help Ling defeat Zhor and both start fancying him (along with Kiddo)! The tense ending shows how power destroys and how loyalty and honour conquer all. Ngok loses his martial arts skills and the Eunuch (Lau Shun) is defeated. However, Ah Yeung disappears with the Sacred Scroll at the end and nicely sets up the sequel.



Lau Shun as the evil Eunuch


The first 45 minutes of this film are really entertaining and include atmospheric scenes, large armies of costumed extras, a superb swordplay exhibition by Ling and a pleasantly paced introduction to the main characters. Unfortunately, after Lau and Elder Kuk die, the plot and the pace start to unravel slightly. The film is still peppered with the extravagant fights and imaginative set pieces, but this cannot completely conceal the problems. For example Zhor's pursuit of Ling and Kiddo is frantic and claustrophobic, but then suddenly his pursuit wanes inexplicably. Zhor reappears over half an hour later, with no real explanation as to his lengthy exclusion from the plot.

The problem seems to be an issue of focus more than anything else, characters pop in and out of the film seemingly at will and the pacing becomes unbalanced as a result. However, the visual elements are still spectacular, and their influence far reaching. Much use is made of tinted lenses, smoke filled forests and high wire fighting. Blue Phoenix (Fennie Yen) is compelling as a snake charmer / martial artist, and it is no surprise that she was asked to work on the sequel to Swordsman (unlike all the other cast members!). Sam Hui relishes the role of the happy-go-lucky warrior and helps offer some light comedy in the latter stages (although Jet drank a lot more in the sequel)! There are no real disappointments and everyone gets at least one good glimpse of action, but clearly old school fans will be slightly dismayed by the levels of wire-fu and camera tricks on show.


The letterboxed print on the re-mastered Mega Star disc is generally in good condition, but it does have a few moments where serious further restoration work is required. The subtitles seem better than those for Swordsman II, and there is Dolby 5.1 sound. The extras are not exceptionally exciting and overall it is a reasonably bare package. There is a cast and crew section with a plot synopsis, plus some trailers. Unfortunately the Megastar disc has been deleted and is not available for sale in the U.S. as Disney owns the copyright to the film. There is planned to be a Hong Kong Legends edition of Swordsman on DVD after their deal with Golden Princess.


This film began the 90's wave of fantastical wire-fu, spawning a highly successful trilogy, including one of Jet Li's most successful ventures. There is no doubt that this is a genre defining film, combining tension, fantasy and mysticism into a modern kung fu production. This worked as a tonic to the overwhelming success of the three brothers (Jackie, Sammo, Biao) in the 80's, who had taken kung fu out of the period setting and added a tougher more real edge. Perhaps old school fans will rue this film as these wire-fu movies are notorious for allowing pop stars and 'pretty-boy' actors to exist alongside true fighting legends. Swordsman remains an inspiration, but upon closer examination it is a troubled production. It is definitely worth watching before the more celebrated Swordsman II, but be prepared for a flawed masterpiece.



Read Swordsman II review


Ying and Kiddo