Sword Bearer, The (RU - DVD)
Gabe finds another original motion picture experience from the ex-USSR
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Sasha’s memories of childhood torture him and he won't let them go. He returns to the town of his birth to rid himself of his nightmares and break apart the shackles of his past. After crippling an assailant he finds himself wanted by both the police and the crime boss parents of his victim. Along the way he meets a woman and proceeds to fall head over heels for her. Soon she's wrapped up in Shasha's violent world and suddenly confronted with his supernatural powers.
Russian films are always a bit hard for me to keep track of (one only need read my sad little plot synopsis to get that point), but they never fail to engage me. The Sword Bearer came to me with no expectations, and I was pleasantly surprised. The film takes cues from dozens of other films and stories, but manages to be unlike anything else I've ever seen.
I assumed first it would be a kind of action movie. Well, there is some action, but not Day Watch levels, really no more than any basic Hollywood thriller. The darker things got, the more I assumed I was watching some kind of horror film, and that our protagonist was a serial killer. When I realized that was wrong I decided it was some kind of dark super-hero flick, or a strange take on the Bonnie and Clyde myth, but every time I thought I had a handle on it, things changed.
The first half is a sort of tone poem, with probably less than a page of total dialogue. I assumed for a long while or protagonist was mute. This section is slow, but if I would've known the gears were getting ready to shift (not into overdrive, don't get me wrong), I would've been more patient. The tone poem slides around from intensely dark, to almost unbearably sensual. These early scenes are disturbing without hardly any violence and sexy as hell without showing hardly any skin.
Don't worry though, horror fans, when our leads have become officially acquainted and the chase really begins there is enough bloody violence to quench a cotton mouthed gore-hound's thirst. But don't go expecting some kind of jaded and disenfranchised wallow in irony and darkness like Ichi the Killer. This is by no means a Miike Takashi flick. The Sword Bearer is poetic and romantic, even to a fault.
This is a very melodramatic film, and because it is alternately silly I'm sure a lot of viewers will not be fans. The deeper meaning, if there is any, escapes me, and the only thing I'm left hanging onto when suggesting the film is its blazingly gorgeous visuals. I do recommend The Sword Bearer, but I do it very cautiously.
I believe this is the fifth Russian made DVD I’ve seen, and with the exception of Day Watch (which was an NTSC pressing), every one has been plagued with edge-enhancement and high contrast problems. The basic quality of the transfer here is pretty decent, but the washed out white levels are pretty brutal. The bright whites also cause blocking on overlapping blacks. Detail levels are pretty sharp (that's the problem, they're too sharp), and noise is relatively minimal.
The main DTS 5.1 Russian track is quite effective (edit: I messed that one up and wrote it down as Dolby Digital the first time around, a double check tells me it was actually a DTS track I listened to). Though The Sword Bearer's greatest strengths lie in its visuals, its sound design is also quite impressive. Audio levels can be very loud, but work best when they're silent (as I said, the main character is mute for most of the film). The subtle sound levels are very nice, though the surround separation isn't quite as highly tuned as I may've liked, but it works.
The Russians have really embraced this whole 'capitalism' thing. The only extras on this disc are commercials, and a lot of them aren't even for other DVDs.
I'm not going to over praise The Sword Bearer, because it has some big problems, but I recommend the film to the more apathetic readers in the house. I enjoyed the film's unpredictability and melodrama, but I can easily see how others could be worn thin. I'd say it's worth at least a rental, except that only Russians will be able to rent it. Sorry about that.
You can find this, and many other foreign releases at xploitedcinema.com.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Release Date: 12th October 2007
Disc Type: Single side, single layer
Audio: DTS Russian, Dolby Digital 5.1 Russian
Extras: Russian Commercials
Easter Egg: No
Director: Filipp Yankovsky
Cast: Artyom Tkachenko, Chulpan Khamatova, Leonid Gromov, Aleksei Zharkov, Aleksei Gorbunov
Genre: Adventure, Drama, Fantasy, Film-Noir, Horror, Romance and Thriller
Length: 108 minutes
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