Cast: Liu Yongxi, Shang Bai, Sui Yongliang, Zhang Xiaochen
Official Selection, 2019 Pingyao International Film Festival
Official Selection, 2020 Hong Kong International Film Festival
No matter how hard you try, you can never leave the jiang hu. In the ravishing and contemplative WILD SWORDS, a shadowy body-slicer is in pursuit of the swordsman Chang, who in a legendary massacre, left two bitterly dueling sects without heirs or survivors. Then, the swordsman disappears. After capturing Chang’s loyal friend as bait, an underground world of bounty hunters and grudge-holders close in on a landscape of smoky shadows and green thickness, swirling fight sequences, shifting stories, and a thrillingly tense showdown with only one possible outcome.
Director Li Yunbo bucks the epic heroism of the genre and takes jiang hu’s ivy entanglements of loyalty and rootlessness as fuel for a moody and intimate revenge triangle. This is the tortured fade-out of the jiang hu, of bloody scores to settle even at the cost of happy endings. And yet despite its stylized intimacy, this is still a wuxia film, and Li offers all its familiar pleasures, now spun with a fresh indie take and breathtaking lushness. A cat and mouse hunt on remote borderlands. Fight sequences that whisper famous wuxia setpieces. A pantheon of unforgettable archnemeses from an icy trans assassin to a faceless foe, drawing as much from globalized Asian culture as it might from animation. And along the way, bystanders remind us with knowing eyes that have seen the inevitable, “what the jiang hu says…”