films seen
average score
Alive and kicking



Xiaoao Jiang Hu
1990 / 120m - Hong Kong
Swordsman poster

The first Swordman film marks the start of a classic martial arts trilogy. Maybe it's not quite as famous in the West, but if you like martial arts this is a very easy recommendation. Not that big of a surprise when you know the film combines the talents of King Hu, Hark Tsui, and Siu-Tung Ching, some of Hong Kong's greatest and biggest action directors.

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The plot is quite intricate and detailed, but at its core, it is really very easy to follow. An important document is stolen from the Imperial Library. The guards are fired right away and the emperor employs the services of Ling to retrieve the document. Ling accepts his mission, but he isn't the only one looking to get his hands on the stolen pages.

Swordsman is a fun blend of the old and the new. On the one hand, it's easy to see the Shaw Bros legacy, but you can also find clear indications of what 90s HK martial arts would grow into. The action scenes are on point and the plot is solid, it's just that the runtime is quite long and the pacing a little lacking. Good fun though, and essential viewing before watching the two sequels.

The Enigmatic Case

Bi Shui Han Shan Duo Ming Jin
1980 / 91m - Hong Kong
Action, Mystery
The Enigmatic Case poster

Every director has to start somewhere, and this is where To's career saw its origin. Don't expect too much from the film, like most of his fellow Hong Kong directors To needed a couple of films to get the hang of things. The Enigmatic Case is pretty basic genre fare, a film made with a very specific audience and goal in mind.

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Lu is a prisoner who is waiting for his execution. The government isn't too keen on going through with it, as they suspect he knows the location of a secret treasure. Their torture techniques aren't very successful and Lu manages to escape. As he flees, he runs into Yu, an attractive young woman on the way to collect her father's ashes.

There isn't too much martial arts here (and the bits that are there are pretty crummy), instead, the film focuses more on the titular case. Sadly, that case isn't all that enigmatic and apart from some smaller interludes, there is very little of note here. It's just simple genre filler, a perfect film for a beginning director to learn the trade.

The Big Heat

Seng Fat Dak Ging
1988 / 98m - Hong Kong
Action, Crime, Thriller
The Big Heat poster

A forgettable and poorly executed police procedural from the hands of the otherwise so-capable Johnnie To (and companions). I did find it pretty remarkable that two decades later To would build his signature upon the crime genre, clearly he needed a little more time (and an implosion of the local film industry) to get to that point.

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The plot is as generic as can be, but that's not at all uncommon for this type of film. Inspector Wong is ready to resign from the force when his longtime partner is suddenly found murdered. Wong assembles a team and starts an investigation, which leads to some very unexpected (but not really though) revelations.

I'm not the biggest fan of the genre, but with a proper cast and/or with some extended action scenes, these films can still be quite fun. There's none of that here. The styling is also completely rubbish and even though the film is on the shorter side, it hardly matters since most of it serves no purpose beyond simple genre filler. Disappointing.