The wuxia genre has devolved in recent years. While CGI has made it possible to bring more fantastical depictions of classic narratives to screen, this is a double-edged sword that often makes the film feel lifeless. Add to that the new tendency to include sophomoric humor and cute creatures for the younger audience members, and Chinese wuxia begins to look a lot like the Marvel franchise.
The Emperor’s Sword is far from a perfect film, and still relies a little too heavily upon CGI, but the narrative is more grounded than many recent wuxia films. The plot involves a deadly sword that has been divided and hidden during the Qin Dynasty due to the immense power it contains. After the emperor dies, his daughter is hunted down when she escapes with one half of the sword. Her only protection is seven warriors known as “The Seven Gentlemen” (The Virtuous, The Wisdom, The Polite, The Valor, The Brave, The Vigor, and The Wise), who have vowed to protect the sword.
There are some great action sequences within The Emperor’s Sword, including one particularly intense showdown between archers in a bamboo forest. But even though the film wisely keeps the action grounded in terms of fighter’s abilities and choreography, the poor choice to rely on CGI for the arrows detracts from these efforts towards realism. The action is still passably entertaining, helped along with kinetic camera work, but it is disappointingly forgettable.
Part of the problem with The Emperor’s Sword, aside from the use of digital effects, is the number of characters introduced. There are so many moving parts to the narrative, and it becomes difficult to care about any of the individual elements when so little time is spent developing any of it. While I would never advocate for less action, The Emperor’s Sword reduces the stakes of these sequences when we care less about the characters who are fighting.
The Blu-ray release for The Emperor’s Sword doesn’t have special features, making the high-definition presentation the only highlight. Although I’m sure it makes a difference, audiences may not care enough to find out.
Entertainment Value: 6/10
Quality of Filmmaking: 5.5/10
Historical Significance: 2/10
Special Features: 0/10