“To everything…there is a season.” Or so the song, and biblical verse, says. This holds true for so many things in our lives. One of the unlikely things that I have found follows this uncannily accurate proverb is the beauty of sword fights in film. Recently, when thinking of my favorite sword fights (by favorite I mean in terms of beauty), I realized that each of my favorites could be categorized by season.
Winter: Kill Bill: Vol. 1 – The Bride (Uma Thurman) fights O-Ren Ishii (Lucy Liu) in the snow.
I thought it appropriate to start with my winter scene, considering the fact that winter won’t seem to quite go away this year. While the entire fight is great, I particularly love the scene when the background music stops. I find the garden beautiful. There is something about the silence of a snowy night. The white snow lends an air of purity, truthfulness (which O-Ren realizes when she apologizes), and completeness (which The Bride feels as she completes the first stage of her revenge towards the end of the film) to the scene. The end of the music lets the audience focus on the juxtaposition of the beauty in the garden, the violence, and the grace, of the sword fight.
Spring: Hero – Broken Sword (Tony Leung Chiu Wai) and Nameless (Jet Li) fight on the lake.
For spring, I picked a scene from Hero. If you love sword fights and haven’t seen this film, you must do so now. Well, finish reading this article and then go pick up Hero. The fight in this scene takes place on a lake. Of course it has the typical flying wire that is popular in many martial arts films. This reminds me of spring because of the environment. While the fight scene itself is fantastic, it’s the emotion that really sets it off. These characters are both in pain. The blue tint to the scene adds to the sense of mourning (think “they’re blue”) along with emotions such as serenity and coldness. The scene ends with one of the characters recognizing the pain the in other and respecting his emotions. Again, you have an interesting mixture of violence, mourning, anger, and respect. All of this is set against a beautiful backdrop.
Summer: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon – Master Li Mu Bai (Chow Yun-Fat) and Jen Yu (Zhang Ziyi) fight in the bamboo forest
This is one of the most beautiful sword fights in film. There is something absolutely beautiful about the characters clad in white against the jade forest. Going back to the emotion, you have the reckless anger of Jen Yu contrasted with the calm peacefulness of Li Mu Bai. Perhaps that is why he is able to navigate the peaceful forest more successfully than Jen Yu. The prevalence of color also plays a major role in this scene. The green bamboo (which is the reason I see summer in this scene) adds to the peaceful backdrop. The green colors also convey a sense of life and balance that fits into the story and the message Li Mu Bai is trying to convey to Jen Yu. If you watch this and don’t add it to your list of the most beautiful sword fights in film, you have some explaining to do.
Autumn: Hero – Flying Snow (Maggie Cheung Man-Yuk) vs. Moon (Zhang Ziyi) in the woods
I know…Hero again. Even more repetitive is Zhang Ziyi’s second appearance on the list. I can’t help it. The cinematography in this film was fantastic, as is Ziyi’s choice of films. The reason this scene reminds me of fall is obvious. Like the summer scene from Crouching Tiger, you have a contrast of peaceful acceptance and reckless anger (of which Zhang Ziyi seems to always be on the wrong side). Not only do the warm tones of this scene (orange, red, yellow, brown, and gold) point us towards fall, they push us across the spectrum of emotions. They give us courage, strength, survival, defiance, irrationality, fear, depression, passion, frustration, immaturity, and a sense of seriousness. In the end, this beautiful forest fades to red with the spilled blood of Moon, and contrasts beautifully with the dark hair and lighter skin of Flying Snow.
It’s incredible to me that these artists (the filmmakers) have been able to take such a horrific and violent act and make them so beautiful, spanning the entire spectrum of human emotions. They have also been able to incorporate nature into their vision which only enhances the aesthetic qualities of the films as well as the impact and depth of the story. What do you consider the most beautiful, and powerful, fight scenes?