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The not so Magnificent Seven
on 28 July 2009
There's a good film trying to get out of Tsui Hark's Seven Swords, but it seems to have been smothered in the cutting room as it shrank from more than three hours to 153 minutes to 141 minutes to 135 minutes in the UK. Clearly inspired by Seven Samurai - even down to the plot development of the seven swordsmen of the title who come to the defence of a village of martial artists facing destruction at the hand of an army of government mercenaries taking the battle to the opposing army to buy more time - it's in no danger of stealing Kurosawa's thunder. Despite a strong first half hour, it quickly becomes increasingly difficult to understand, with leaps of continuity, underdeveloped subplots and, worst of all, little character development that leaves most of its seven swordsmen completely anonymous: even Donnie Yen barely gets a chance to register. Since we never know who most of these people are, it's hard to get involved in their fate (especially since they're all but invincible). There are good moments like the light of an unsheathed sword half-illuminating a face at night or the neat swordfight with two men sandwiched up and down the walls of a narrow corridor, while the mercenaries' motive for holding off their attack (they want to negotiate a better bounty for its inhabitants' heads) is a neat touch and the action scenes are rather better shot than usual for Tsui. Yet there aren't quite enough of them to prevent the film from becoming just a bit dull and uninvolving. Be warned that there are a couple of very nasty unsimulated horse falls in the international versions of the film.
While Dragon Dynasty's 2-disc US NTSC set included the 153-minute cut of the film with an impressive array of extras - audio commentary with Tsui Hark and Bey Logan, 26 minutes of deleted scenes, behind the scenes featurettes, interviews, trailers and TV spots - Hong Kong Legends UK DVD release is a lot less impressive, offering a heavily cut version thats some 13 minutes shorter. There's a decent extras package which includes those deleted scenes if you get the original 2-disc UK release, but the single-disc version offers only trailers for other Premier Asia releases.