Film / Swordsmen

Swordsmen, also known as Wu Xia, is a 2011 film directed by Peter Chan and starring Donnie Yen and Takeshi Kaneshiro.

Liu Jinxi (Donnie Yen) is just a non-notable villager in a small village, but he was able to kill a pair of bandits, one of whom was a very skilled fighter and on the most-wanted list. Detective Xu Baijiu (Takeshi Kaneshiro) is sent to investigate.

Thus begins a martial arts thriller that touches on themes of law versus good and destiny versus free will.

Not related to the similarly-titled fanfic, Swordsmen, nor the 1990s Swordsman trilogy.

This film provides examples of:

  • Ambiguously Evil: The detective Baijiu firmly adheres to law, but he is shown to be quite underhanded and amoral.
  • Armor Is Useless: The master's qigong or control of his internal energy is enough to stop a blade.
  • Badass Normal: Xu Baijiu does not know martial arts beyond his acupuncture skills, but he manages to defeat the Master using needles and lightning, at the cost of his life.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: Jinxi aka Tang Long is mainly a peaceful villager, but if you attack his family, he will show to you his true self.
  • Big Bad: The Master of the 72 Demons.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Detective Baijiu is dead, Jinxi has lost an arm, and the 72 Demons are still free. However, the Master is dead for good, and Jinxi can live peacefully with his family from now.
  • Blood from the Mouth: Baijiu's death.
  • Chekhov's Skill: Xu Baijiu's acupuncture skills come handy at the end of the film.
  • Combat Pragmatist: Tang Long disarms the Madam and dominates her by using small joint manipulation when she is distracted with her sword lodged on the wall.
  • Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass: Considering that a random paper mill worker named Lu Jinxi killed a skilled fighter and bandit who was on the most-wanted list, the detective deduces that Jinxi is not what he seems.
  • Dark Action Girl: The 13th Madam.
  • The Don: The Master of the 72 Demons gang of assassins.
  • Emotions Versus Stoicism: Detective Xu Baijiu falls squarely on the Stoicism side, and he cites his past experiences as a justification. He has even used acupuncture to suppress the emotion of caring and mercy for others when it conflicts with upholding the law. The events of the film challenge this belief.
  • Exactly What It Says on the Tin: The movie has a wuxia setting, as indicated by the Chinese title of the film. Averted, however, with the English title, since the film has relatively few swordsmen.
  • Four Eyes, Zero Soul: Baijiu.
  • Good Is Not Nice: Xu Baijiu once released a juvenile offender to foster care, thinking said offender had reformed. The offender proceeded to poison his foster parents and almost Baijiu himself. Since then, he has resolved to not let people off the hook of the law easy, and to keep any instinct of mercy or kindness out of his work.
  • Handicapped Badass: Lu Jinxi after cutting off his arm.
  • Heel–Face Turn: Lu Jinxi, from his being a cold-blooded killer many years ago, as the Number Two member of the 72 Demons. And later, the detective becomes this, as he changes from being an antagonist to Lu Jinxi to a friend and ally.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Baijiu gives his life to turn the The Master into a lightning rod. It's worth it.
  • Inspector Javert: Baijiu becomes increasingly distrustful and paranoid towards Jinxi, and soon gets obsessed over uncovering his supposed true identity.
  • Knight Templar: Baijiu, especially to Lu Jinxi. The detective explicitly states that law is the only source of true justice in the world, but Lu Jinxi has been trying to establish a new life free from his former crimes through his personal repentance.
  • Man in White: Detective Baijiu dresses in bright white.
  • Mask of Sanity: Possibly; it is not clear whether Baijiu is clinically off his rocker or it is just an narrative device to show his inner thoughts, but aside his quirks and obsessions, we actually see a side of his mind taking physical shape and talking to him as an evil clone.
  • Never Bring a Knife to a Fist Fight: Not when your opponent is a qi master. It will be useless.
  • Non-Action Guy: Defied by Baijiu, who has no proper martial arts training and still charges to fight the Master with his needles.
  • Love at First Sight: How the Lu Jinxi and his wife first met.
  • Oh, Crap!: The detective has this look in his eyes when Jinxi and him are alone in the road and he believes he is gonna be murdered.
  • Old Master: The Master of the 72 Demons. His qigong is so strong that he cannot be hurt by the impact of blades, and he also can throw people clear across the room. The old man is practically The Juggernaut.
  • One-Man Army: Tang Long.
  • Pressure Point: Baijiu' fighting style, if it can be called such.
  • Sanity Slippage: When Baijiu attacks Jinxi with a bladed agricultural tool, almost killing him, in a paroxism of conviction about his theory.
  • Screaming Warrior: Many, especially among the 72 Demons.
  • Sliding Scale Of Free Will Versus Fate: A theme debated through the events of the film. For Lu Jinxi, it is whether his past will haunt and perhaps kill him, either by his former gang or by the law, or whether he can successfully make a new life for himself. For Xu Baijiu, it is how much people choose to be evil and must be held back by law or how much circumstances may conspire to result in evil. These two characters actually sit down once and have a chat about destiny.
  • To Be Lawful or Good: The Moral Dilemma that Xu Baijiu faces, as he gradually realizes Lu Jinxi truly has reformed himself.
  • Wuxia: The setting—with small rural tribes and secret martial artists—is effectively this, even though the detective's western clothing is unusual for the genre, and the film is technically set in the early 20th century.