What Price Survival (HK 1994)

Rating: **
Cast: Norman Chu (Tsui Siu Keung), Damien Lau, David Chiang, Charlie Young

A tiresome and downbeat samurai film set in the 1930's where everyone fights with swords. An interesting premise and a rich and lush environment aren't enough to save the film from mediocrity, though. We've seen this story before - a nasty villain steals his rival's son, raises and trains him, and tricks him into killing his real father. Then he'll kill the son. Veteran kung fu heavies Norman Chu, Damien Lau, and David Chiang put in strong, but restrained performances and prove that they've still got what it takes. However, the main characters are the youngsters, and they're just kind of flat with the exception of the tragically pretty Charlie Young. She's the only one who brings any life to the film and she looks astonishing swinging a sword around. Unfortunately, she does that WAY too briefly before letting the men settle their differences among themselves. The film is confusing and disjointed, often not knowing where it wants to go, accompanied by an equally confusing musical score. The cinematography and scenery are gorgeous with the exception of the action scenes, many of which are shot in that artsy jerky blur-motion style that I hate so much (i.e. Samo-Vision). That's very frustrating because the excellent sword fighting is obscured and even ignored by the camerawork. Also typical of an art film (which this isn't), it features droning melancholic narratives and everyone's delivery is dry, brooding, and depressed. Disappointing.