The Blind Swordsman's Revenge (1972)

Directed by: Tu Chong-Hsun
Written by:
Tu Chong-Hsun & Lam Gin-Hung
Yeh Ying-Han
Sing Lung, Kang Kai, Chen Hung-Lieh, Chen Pei-Ling, Yi Yuan, Kong Do & Lung Fei

The character of Zatoichi occupied the screen in 26 films mainly made between 1962 and 1973 in Japan (with a final one produced in 1989). Created by novelist Kan Shimozawa, his late Edo Period (around 1830s and 1840s in this case) character came to the screen for the first time in The Tale Of Zatoichi starring Shintaro Katsu as the blind masseur and master swordsman. The plan wasn’t to do a series of films but the surprise success made the Daiei Studio leap at the chance of capitalizing and across 1962 and 1963, the tally was already at 5 films. Lead Shintaro Katsu also had a hand in developing the projects and character in a producing capacity and directed two of the films. Once the film adventures stopped in 1973, Katsu took the blind swordsman to TV in a run that lasted four seasons (1974-1979). While some storylines were original in the show, some were condensed remakes of the films themselves and speaking of remakes, the 17th film Zatoichi Challenged was loosely adapted and modernized in 1989 as Blind Fury, starring Rutger Hauer. Takeshi Kitano also played the character in his 2003 film Zatoichi, which was awarded the Venice Film Festival’s Silver Lion for Best Direction in 2003. As for the Taiwanese production The Blind Swordsman’s Revenge with their own Zatoichi, almost all of the original Japanese movies had been made at this point, including the 1971 entry where Jimmy Wang Yu as the One-Armed Swordsman squared off against the character but Wuxia and kung fu wasn’t a past phase so it comes as no surprise producers chose to copy, emulate, rip-off in 1972.

This included getting some casting done to make audiences familiar with the sights and sounds of what they might’ve seen in the Shintaro Katsu films and the story is the actor, credited as Sing Lung, was a former bartender/restaurateur that won a Zatoichi look alike contest. By the looks of it he played Zatoichi in four movies in 1972: The Blind Hero Fighting Evil Wolf, The Blind-Swordsman's Revenge, Trust and Brotherhood and The Hunchback and then made two additional movies. Trust And Brotherhood looks more modern, like a basher and reportedly is more of a Zatoichi cameo movie. Same with The Hunchback and reportedly Sing Lung isn’t in it that much. Sharing the screen and story with other swordsmen of the quite gloomy martial world in The Blind-Swordsman's Revenge, it's a curious product that obviously taps into and capitalizes on content and imagery but for fans of the Wuxia movie but it's an effort that comes with some dramatic poignancy and unusual intensity from the action design team.

Swordsman Chu Jen-Jieh (Kang Kai) challenges Tieh Ho (Yi Yuan) and the battle ends up with the latter slicing his own throat. Leaving a wife and child behind, Chu Jen-Jieh feels less like a winner and more guilt-stricken and aims to provide for the widow and child and leave the martial world behind. Blind swordsman Zatoichi (Sing Lung) is Tieh Ho's brother and feeling guilty for having stayed away for so long, he vows to avenge his brother. After experiencing first hand that Chu Jen-Jieh is a noble swordsman, his attention turns to other challengers of the martial world. Primarily Black Doomsday Tan Long (Chen Hung-Lieh)...

While Sing Lung at times feels like a supporting player in his own rip off movie, we nevertheless get a sense of what he and director Tu Chong-Hsun are going for and the expected direction would be to echo mannerisms and characteristics that Shintaro Katsu brought to the screen. But with the added action focus, design and knowhow of the Taiwanese makers very little is echoing the actual chambara style of the Japanese counterparts. Sing Lung looks like Shintaro Katsu arguably but it feels like he's overdoing the act as well to make sure we really understand he's blind and essentially a copy of another actor. Less of a problem in the action scenes (clearly edited around his limited abilities), here's where aping the moves of another works more to Sing Lung's advantage. Also employing a quickly edited style to aid intensity, to speed up the sword clashes, it can be a bit confusing in cropped form and these half a second long cuts seem very experimental for the early 70s. It's partly successful because the staging is raw rather than balletic and more so since there's a fairly good focus on the dramatic as well.

Since Chu Jen-Jieh now carries a broken sword and has seen just how little personal gain there is to the pursuit of fame and glory, the film presents this maturity well enough in sections. Other scenes go on melodramatic overdrive but there's certainly a belief in infusing the Wuxia movie with seriousness and that's appreciated. Chen Hung-Lieh is perfectly and gladly typecast as a smarmy, bloodthirsty swordsman that clearly believes in the glory of martial world reputation and we even get a brief turn by Kong Do who faces off against Zatoich using a flying guillotine. In the end The Blind-Swordsman's Revenge moves between its own filmmaking choices and walking a path someone else already did but that also means it secures a place as a good enough watch outside of the Zatoichi emulation. That's its calling card however and it's cute enough but the world within is anything but and we're happy to stay for a solid enough examination of the pitfalls of the martial world.

reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson