VIFF Review: ‘The Hidden Sword’ is a muddled mess with some awesome martial arts action

Have you ever watched a scene in a foreign film and thought “something must have been lost in translation”? The Hidden Sword is an entire movie like that.

Set both before and after the second world war the film tells the story of a martial art and the family that masters it. After a battle a soldier comes to a small village looking for the man who taught one of the armies mastery of the sword. The old man refuses to teach him until he reaches a level of peak physical and mental prowess so the soldier vows to stay for a year until he reaches that point. After a year he has to go to war again and after a decade passes an imposter returns in his place and wants to become the new master of the martial art. Also, the original soldier’s wife helps the imposter keep up this fa├žade. Also, the grandson of the old man is in love with the wife. Also, the adopted granddaughter of the old man is in love with the son. Also the imposter has a pair of twin (I think) girl bodyguards who are both wordless and utterly devoted to him and his nefarious plans. Also there’s a village idiot who spies on women as they bathe and routinely tries to sexually assault them.

If all that sounds a little on the weird, convoluted, and problematic sides just know that isn’t even the half of it. The whole thing is set to a bass driven funk soundtrack that should really work but feels a little out-of-place and the martial arts movie “whoosh” sound effect is applied to just about every movement in the movie.

All that said when they do happen the martial arts sequences are pretty awesome. The big set piece begins with a dozen or more sword masters at the top of a mountain as they walk down they pair off and fight duels to see who can make it to the bottom. It sounds simple enough but it’s an extended sequence where you can see basically every fight that happens and that’s awesome even if out of the dozen masters you’ve only met two before. My favourite though is when during a dinner party the wife ties a fire iron to her wrist and while wearing a gorgeous evening gown fights off dozens of soldiers welding rifles and bayonets.

None of this is very well explained though. The strange thing is that the version I saw had both English and French subtitles and while my french is pretty rusty, I could swear that many of the French subtitles seemed to be way more in depth.

All in all while there are a few things to love in The Hidden Sword they are few and far between, and hidden among a convoluted plot and dozens of extras and unnamed characters.