Back in the mid 90’s, action superstar Jet Li starred in several Hong Kong classics. Two of these especially stood out to me at the time, with both released within close proximity of the other. The New Legend of Shaolin (1994) and My Father is a Hero (1995) both came from producer Wong Jing, which to some may be considered a drawback, but not to me. Sure, his productions could be considered low brow, but for the most part I have to say that I have enjoyed his work.
It would be several years before I would get the opportunity to see either of these films, with them not being readily available on my side of the point. Finally they would see the light of day in my location, albeit both in a heavily edited and poorly dubbed form with them also being genetically re-titled to Legend of the Red Dragon and The Enforcer. Even in this poorly presented form, the quality of the action shone through, with ace choreographer Yuen Kwai a.k.a Corey Yuen’s action scenes proving once again he is one of the best in the business.
However, considering how much of a fan I was of Jet Li at the time, it was his young co-star Xie Miao that truly impressed me in each of these movies. With him only being around 10 years old at the time of filming, I couldn’t believe the amount of action Xie got involved in throughout each film, and not only that but the level of skill he displayed in each.
While he would go on to appear in a number of films following this, he never reached the success level that I thought he deserved. He has appeared in high profile productions such as Champions (2008) and The Thousand Faces of Dunjia (2017) but more recently he has become more prolific as a DTV action star, with the majority of his movies being made for streaming. Some are admittedly better than others, but Xie’s talent still manages to shine through.
This brings us to one of his more recent efforts, Eye for an Eye: The Blind Swordsman, a period martial arts tale that manages to stand out due to its impressive visuals and well choreographed fight scenes, putting it ahead of many other low budget Chinese productions. It does have some issues which I will get into, but Eye for An Eye makes for an enjoyably fast paced actioner that should please the majority of martial arts/action fans.
The film is another variation on the Zatoichi character. Many films throughout the years have either been inspired by or downright copied Shintaro Katsu’s iconic performance. Amongst these, Rutger Hauer memorably played a Westernized take on the character in Blind Fury (1989), a loose remake of the 17th Zatoichi movie, Zatoichi Challenged (1967).
Another notable version was Hwang Jung-min, who played a Korean version of the character in the enjoyable Blades of Blood (2010). Then there’s martial arts superstar Donnie Yen who wasn’t happy emulating the character in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016), but would then go on further, with his scene stealing role in John Wick: Chapter 4 (2023) being truly Zatoichi inspired.
Of course, with the limited budget the filmmakers of Eye for an Eye had to work with, I wasn’t expected for it to live up to those films mentioned. Even so, everyone works hard to make the film rise above its DTV restrictions, none more so than leading man Xie Miao whose Blind Cheng makes for a suitably lethal hero.
Blinded years before, Cheng now earns his living working as a bounty hunter. Whilst carrying out a job he meets Ni Yan (Gao Weiman), who is preparing for her wedding. Cheng smells the wine she is preparing and incorrectly assumes it is for sale. Ni Yan explains to him it isn’t for sale but he is more than welcome to stay for her wedding, where he can drink all the wine he wishes.
During her nuptials, Ni Yan’s brother Ni Jun (Zhang Haosen) shows up. With a reputation as a bandit, Ni Jun’s appearance ends up driving all the wedding attendees away. All that is for Cheng, who doesn’t seem to care who is in attendance as long as he can enjoy his wine.
As Cheng leaves to go sleep off his alcoholic state, tragedy befalls Ni Yan and her family, with her family massacred and her raped and left for dead. Cheng finds Ni Yan in a state of despair and decides to help her on her quest for justice.
As it is made for streaming, one should lower their expectations when coming to a film like Eye for an Eye, but I was pleasantly surprised by the level of production value and quality visuals on display. Sets and costumes all look suitably authentic, with the fine cinematography raising it above the norm. A snow covered fight scene towards the finale is especially striking, which coupled with the fine fight choreography on display makes for the film’s most impressive action scene.
My only real grip in terms of the action is that the fight scenes never feel as long as they should be. As excitingly staged as they are, they do appear to be shorter than what is normally expected in a martial arts film. It put me in mind somewhat of the RZA’s Man With the Iron Fists (2012), which had fine action choreography courtesy of Yuen Kwai, but like Eye for an Eye, had its action cut short.
First time director Yang Bingjia on occasion does shoot the action too close, but for the most part it is shot clearly, allowing the audience to marvel at the skills of the performers. The standout amongst them of course, is the film’s leading man Xie Miao who is even more impressive than when I first became aware of him all those years ago. The role of Cheng doesn’t exactly stretch him as an actor, with his being stoic throughout the majority of the film’s runtime, but when it comes to showing off his fighting skills he truly impresses, and makes you wonder how he hasn’t become better known.
Unlike the original Zatoichi, Cheng has something of a sadistic streak, not adverse to torturing his opponents to get information. One particularly gruesome scene has him using the strings of a lute wrapped around someone’s neck in order to find out what he wants to know. This ends up developing into an elaborate booby trap that would make Jigsaw from the Saw series proud.
Eye for an Eye is told over an especially lean 74 minutes, which is both to the film’s credit and its detriment. While it’s great to see an action film get to the point, sometimes it seems like in a rush to reach the finale. An extra 10-15 minutes wouldn’t have hurt to round out the characters, although ultimately it doesn’t hurt the film too much as it never has the opportunity to become boring. The plot does initially appear to be more complex than it actually is, with it essentially boiling down to a simple story of good vs evil, or more precise not so good vs evil.
The villain side of the film also could have been stronger, with Cheng’s final opponent seeming more like the kind of character the hero has to dispose of to get to the real villain. He never puts up a proper fight, with his henchman being much more of a threat.
All of these are minor quibbles though for what is essentially a fast paced and exciting martial arts actioner. Released Stateside by the good people at Well Go USA, Eye for an Eye was initially released to their streaming channel Hi-YAH! but is now available to buy physically on DVD and Blu-Ray. It may not be an essential purchase but would still go well with anyone’s martial arts collection.
Plot: 3.5/5 Acting: 3.5/5 Action: 3.5/5 Overall: 3.5/5