The Swordsman of All Swordsmen


The Swordsman of All Swordsmen
一代劍王 (Yi dai jian wang)

Taiwan, 1968, 86’, Mandarin
Directed by: Joseph Kuo
Screenplay: Hsu Tien-yung, Joseph Kuo
Photography (color): Lin Tsan-ting
Editing: Chiang Shu-hua
Production Design: Li Ling-chieh
Music: Li Szu
Producer: Cheung Tiu-yin
Cast: Shang-guan Ling-feng (Flying Swallow), Tien Peng (Tsai Ying-jie), Yang Meng-hua (daughter of travelling performer), Chiang Nan (Black Dragon), Tsao Tsien (Yun Chun-chung), Miao Tien (Chou Hu), Ko You-min (Fang Bao), Lu Shih (Liu Xiang), Hsueh Han (Yin Shih)

Date of First Release in Territory: October 6th, 1968

A landmark work of wuxia cinema long sought out by genre buffs, Joseph Kuo’s The Swordsman of All Swordsmen is now making its bow in newly restored form – ready for a wider audience to assess the film’s place in martial arts cinema and savour its storytelling. Tien Peng stars as the title swordsman, Tsai Ying-jie, a young man who at the age of six witnessed his family being massacred. The killers were led by Yun Chun-chung (Tsao Tsien), who coveted the Spirit Chasing Sword held by Tsai’s father. After the deaths, young Tsai was whisked away to a valley where he’d spend years in training, fully intent on one day wreaking vengeance.
The time for that is now. On the road and carrying five little tablets with the killers’ names engraved on them, Tsai comes face to face with nasty bully Chou Hu (Miao Tien). Chou is first among the targets and he’s quickly dispatched, left pinned to a tree by his own sword. Soon another foe, Fang Bao (Ko You-min), has a blade run through him too, and word reaches the other three that comeuppance is headed their way. But then complications set in for Tsai. First a mystery swordsman (Chiang Nan) turns up and requests a duel. And then that swordsman’s sister (Shang-guan Ling-feng) helps Tsai recover after he’s hit with poison darts. Once he’s back on his feet, Tsai starts to wrestle with his deep-set hatred and wonders whether revenge should cross generations.
Director Joseph Kuo arrived at making The Swordsman of All Swordsmen after directing a string of Taiwanese-language dramas going back to the late 1950s. Now working under the Union Film company set up in Taiwan in 1965 by Hong Kong director King Hu and Taiwanese producer Sha Rong-feng, Kuo dived into the emerging modern wuxia wave. Released a year after Hu’s 1967 swordplay feature Dragon Inn became a sensation, Kuo’s film picks up some of Hu’s devices but aims for a more melancholy mood. 
Among the obvious cues from Hu’s work is an inn scene that recalls star Shih Chun’s astonishing entrance in Dragon Inn. Setting Kuo’s film apart, though, are its musings on the futility of revenge and the pursuit of greatness in the martial world. Those gentler scenes give the film its emotional depth, offering a precursor to the moods Hong Kong director Chor Yuen would later explore in his extravagant wuxia cinema. The Swordsman of All Swordsmen also plays up the concept of the jiang hu, an underworld that operates under its own moral code. Swordsmen roam as chivalrous knights, exchanging praise in battle and even addressing the greatest of foes in respectful terms.
In the action department, The Swordsman of All Swordsmen joined other films in establishing the modern wuxia style. Like Hu did earlier in Come Drink with Me (1966) and Dragon Inn, Kuo employs moves like revealing martial arts talents through quick and intense feats (think catching a dagger with one's teeth, then spitting it back). Combat scenes are captured with a roving camera and often in wide open areas, giving space for techniques like the long tracking shots also used in works by Hu and earlier Japanese samurai sagas. The tension in fight scenes is ramped up through sparse percussion, and the performers handle tricky choreography – a flowing style that combines shows of brute force with acrobatic flourishes. For Kuo, the film would be a turning point: iconic martial arts movies like The 7 Grandmasters and The 18 Bronzemen were to follow, marking the director out as one to rely on for kung fu thrills.

Joseph Kuo 

Born in Taiwan in 1935, Joseph Kuo studied scriptwriting and directing at Taipei’s Asia Film Company before joining the film industry in the 1950s. After becoming a director, he helmed mainly Taiwanese-language dramas until shifting gear with the Mandarin-language wuxia film The Swordsman of All Swordsmen (1968), which was a hit in Taiwan and Hong Kong. From then on Kuo specialised in martial arts cinema, initially working briefly with Hong Kong's Shaw Brothers studio before returning to Taiwan to continue in the genre, mainly through his Hong Hwa film company. 


1958 – Lament in the Ancient Palace
1968 – The Swordsman of All Swordsmen
1971 – Mission Impossible 
1974 – Shaolin Kung Fu 
1976 – The 18 Bronzemen
1977 – The 7 Grandmasters 
1978 – Born Invincible 
1979 – The 36 Deadly Styles
1979 – The Mystery of Chess Boxing
1983 – Shaolin Kung Fu
Tim Youngs
Film director: Joseph KUO
Year: 1968
Running time: 87'
Country: Taiwan
30/04 - 9:00 AM
Teatro Nuovo Giovanni da Udine
30-04-2022 9:00 30-04-2022 10:27Europe/Rome The Swordsman of All Swordsmen Far East Film Festival Teatro Nuovo Giovanni da UdineCEC Udine