Yet another worthwhile title excavated from the Shaw Brothers vault as part of Celestial Pictures' ongoing restoration project Perils of the Sentimental Swordsman stands as one of the most popular of a great many collaborations between director Chor Yuen, writer Gu Long and star Ti Lung. The third in a trio of Sentimental Swordsmen pictures it is, perhaps, not the best place to start if you're looking to an introduction to the character as by this point the rules of sequel one-upmanship had escalated the level of action and intrigue to a level that there's simply no time left for character and plot but whether the characters are well developed or not there's no denying that this is an enormously entertaining film. An everything-including-the-kitchen-sink sort of picture, Perils of the Sentimental Swordsman pits its hero - who, despite his moniker, uses a fan as his weapon of choice - against a never ending series of outrageous villains, evil plots, double and triple crosses, a vengeful ghost and more as he attempts to infiltrate the legendary Ghostly Village.
Ti Lung is Chu Liu-hsiang, the titular hero, a wandering martial arts expert loyal in his service of a local prince. When Chu and the prince get word that the legendary Ghostly Village - long a haven for thieves, villains and rogues of all sorts - is planning a possible overthrow they set a complicated plan in motion to have Chu infiltrate the village and bring down it's leader, Old Hawk. Complicating matters is their belief that Old Hawk's spies have already infiltrated the royal court, meaning they can trust no one, and Chu is sent on his way with a series of would-be assassins on his trail, including a mysterious and immensely talented man in black. Things get no easier when Chu succeeds in finding the village since it is largely populated by criminals who fled there to escape him in the first place and the only residents who show him any friendship are a drunken, cowardly gambler and a young man whose interests in Chu are of a more, shall we say, intimate nature. Throw in a ghost, bursts of slapstick, a beautiful young girl, hidden caverns, an old man who hides messages in the boil in his leg, constantly shifting allegiances, weapons that spout flame and so much more and you'll be forgiven if you find the plot a little difficult to follow, particularly in the early going. There's just so much happening that it can be difficult to keep up. This is a kung fu film for the ADD set.
Despite the regular moments of "Who is that? What's happening now?" the film holds together incredibly well for three reasons. First, there is the constant stream of flamboyant villains providing a non-stop stream of fights. There is one with a golden thumb. One who fights with a bell. One with a flaming tri-staff. There are exploding candles, flammable poisons, and more seemingly every time you turn around. The fight choreography is fresh, inventive and - thanks to the presence of three different choreographers each employing a distinct style - never repeats itself despite the sheer volume of fights. Second, there is the dazzling set design. Obviously shot on a sound stage there is no attempt at realism here. Colors are hugely over saturated, proportions skewed, the fog machine put to liberal use. Set designs are lush, with a look that rests somewhere between classic Star Trek and Wisit Sasanatieng's Tears of the Black Tiger, all of it run through that classic Shaw Brothers filter. It's camp elevated to high art and there's not a single shot without something fantastic to look at. Third is Ti Lung himself, not one of the Shaw's best known performers today but one with enough natural charisma and elegance to somehow maintain himself as a believable character no matter what Chor Yuen chooses to throw at him.
This freshly restored version presents the film very likely looking even better than it would have when originally shown. The transfer is anamorphic in its correct ratio and absolutely pristine. There is not a scratch or speck of dirt to be found, the colors are rich and vibrant, the blacks deep and true. Comparing the original theatrical trailer included on the disc to the fully restored print shows just how much work went into getting this looking good and the results are magnificent. The audio comes with the original mono Mandarin track and the included English subtitles are clear and easy to follow. Very definitely recommended.