#022/ Have Sword, Will Travel

Have box, won’t watch.

Bad joke.

But, I am 6 weeks into 2020 and only 2 films down watched from the Shaws box. I watched Missbehavior this morning, and clearly the guilt of that 90 minute indulgence sent me back to the project at hand. (Blame Kozo)

So – Have Sword, Will Travel. 1969. The first ‘Iron Triangle’ movie, I’m reading in places much more knowledgeable about these things than me, in its collaboration between Chang Cheh, David Chiang, and Ti Lung. I’m only 22 films into this box but reading these other pieces has really shown my ignorance – maybe I should exclude martial arts films from this project (there are certainly already enough experts of those!) and stick to things I know like mediocre rom coms and bad comedies. There must be like 200 of those in here at least.

That said, most of those authors seemed to have similar experiences to me watching this. Fairly cold. A competent, pretty accomplished film, that I can’t in all honesty say I enjoyed.

It’s a wandering hero/swordsman style film as the name would suggest, riffing on some samurai/Spaghetti Western tropes, with Chiang taking up this drifting role. That’s only part of the film, though, it’s interspersed with the story of an ailing lord, a risky money shipment, a righteous martial arts couple, and a developing love triangle. There’s some engaging interplay here, though it’s hard to get invested in the story of a wanderer when the extent of his “wandering” is across very short distances between characters and places he has an intimate familiarity with. That’s not a wanderer but a Normal Human.

A lot of Have Sword, Will Travel takes place outside, among the trees and muddy streets surrounding small towns. For a film riffing on a wandering hero trope, there’s a distinct lack of variety to these spaces. There are few, if any, of the opulent sets that have impressed me in other films watched so far for this project, and none of the special effects used to make these exteriors impressive (I’m looking at you Madam White Snake).It’s all a bit samey and unremarkable – even the inns aren’t used remotely as interestingly as King Hu’s from the years before 1969.

That said, Have Sword hits that brief moment of joy – the best moment for me in this flavour of wuxia film – where characters sit around a table in an inn and reveal their martial arts prowess by slicing chopsticks in half, sticking candles to walls and tossing noodle bowls, all while never getting out of their seat. This one’s pretty good.

There are other moments of flair that I appreciated – a balletic opening credits with the cast doing some kind of abstract fighting against brightly coloured backgrounds, an inventive soundtrack that stripped down to echoing percussion whenever action was shown in slow motion. But lots of this film was lost on me.

A couple more period set wuxia films before I get back to my comfort zone – just got to power through!

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