The film stands out from the many other New Wave wuxia movies for several reasons, mainly because it sees the return of every one’s favourite swordsman, Ti Lung, in a starring role, but also because of it’s lengthy running time of several hours and it’s seemingly huge budget - towards the end of the film there’s a sequence that must have cost a fortune as a whole village is spectacularly blown up by ancient chinese missiles during an impressive Ben Hur style chariot chase scene. I didn’t really know much about the director / producer Frankie Chan until I saw this film but after looking him up on the internet it turns out he’s a very talented musician credited with composing the music for over 200 old school and Shaw Brothers films from ‘The New One Armed Swordsman’ to ‘Five Venoms’ and ‘Warriors Two’, it’s a hell of a list if you look it up! After watching ‘A Warrior’s Tragedy’ it seems that he’s also a very competent director and actor as well and to swing such a budget for this film he must have been quite a producer although his filmography in these areas isn’t quite as extensive.
‘A Warrior’s Tragedy’ is based on a Gu Long novel so the plot’s quite convoluted but basically it’s a tale of revenge. The film opens with a scene serves to set the tone of Ti Lung’s character as miserable and ruthless but not totally cold hearted swordsman not unlike his character in ‘Magic Blade’. A pair of male and female assassins are waiting in a snow blizzard to kill Ti Lung but he gives them a chance to leave - he only retaliates when they attack him and he does so with speed and ferocity killing the pair, taking no pleasure in the bloodshed. It soon transpires, however, that this was only a scheme by his dear old mum to test whether Ti Lung is ready to go out into the world to take revenge for his murdered father, apparently the reason she has been training him and filling him with hatred for the last twenty odd years. His travels to find the killer lead him to a desert village where he forms an uneasy alliance with Frankie Chan’s character, an incredibly skillful but carefree wanderer whose motives are unclear. The pair end up being invited, along with the other top fighters, to Man Ma Hall (the home of one of the most powerful clans) and through a series of flashbacks the murderous events of twenty years ago are gradually revealed and we see how the bitterness of the past is handed down to successive generations. The majority of the film takes place in gritty desert settings which conjure up images of spaghetti westerns and great films like ‘New Dragongate Inn’ and ‘Big Land Flying Eagle’ - always a definite plus point in my book.
For me, at least, one of the main reasons to recommend ‘A Warrior’s Tragedy’ would be the action. With a grand total of eleven action directors it seems like they really wanted to get it right, and they did so with some aplomb. Whilst being fairly typical of new wave swordplay action of the day there was less of a reliance on fancy wire-work and choppy editing and more of an emphasis on longer takes with more intricate moves. Don’t get me wrong, there is some wire work and some fancy effects - there’s a Harry Potter style invisible cloak for example, with leads to some interesting fights, as well as Fung Hak On’s single action scene which see’s him flying around the tavern shooting explosives out of his crutches! There are really too many highlights in the action for me to list as swordfights crop up throughout the movie with frequency and quality, I think the best one is where Ti Lung confronts and challenges Frankie Chan - Ti certainly still had what it takes in the nineties and it’s surprising to see how skilfully Frankie performs - he’s not a bad fighter for a musician! The action isn’t all fighting either, I always enjoy a good chase scene but when it involves six roman style chariots (each with a four horse team) thundering through the desert amid an impressive pyrotechnic display you know you’re onto a winner! The only real disappointment is the final fight really which is okay doesn’t quite live up to the Qaulity of those that preceded it.
A Warrior’s Tragedy is a bit of a mixed bag because of the contrasting personalities of the two main protagonists, as I mentioned earlier - Ti Lung plays a cold and stoic character who barely speaks (almost identical to Pearl Cheung in ‘My Blade My Life’ - including the pronounced limp) while Frankie Chan is his opposite as a light hearted lady’s man who likes to wind people up with his ‘comical’ antics. I personally preferred the more serious side of the movie with Ti Lung which reminded me of my favourite classic Wuxia flicks (like ‘Magic Blade’ and ‘Moon Night Cutter’ but I suppose without the lighthearted interludes it could have all got a bit depressing and the lengthy running time might have dragged. The comedy aspects aren’t anywhere near as excessive as the worse offenders of ‘hilarious’ 90’s mo lei tau comedy like ‘Flying Daggers’ or ‘Eagle Shooting Heroes’ and overall it’s quite serious in tone as befits a Gu Long novel, I wouldn’t want to put comedy haters off from watching this enjoyable and action-packed film.
Overall - a generous 8/10 but make sure you get the longest version you can find as there are many different running times for this film.