'Swords' sets stage on Lido

VENICE — A dazzling display of Chinese fireworks celebrating the opening of extravaganza “Seven Swords,” counterpointed by a burst of parochial Italian polemics, kicked off the 62nd Venice Film Festival on Wednesday.

Pyrotechnic rockets fired from the Excelsior Hotel beach emblazoned the title of the Tsui Hark-helmed martial arts epic against the Lido’s sky as 1,000 guests feasted on Venetian cuisine in the fest’s most glam inaugural bash in recent memory.

While the 17th century-set pic about seven villagers fighting an evil general drew mixed press responses, the Asian blockbuster was a more exciting opener than last year’s curtain-raiser, “The Terminal,” by Steven Spielberg, with whom Hark is often compared.

“Seven Swords” stars Donnie Yen, Kim So-yeun and Zhang Jingchu — all big box office draws in China — posed for the paparazzi on the Palazzo del Cinema catwalk.

The ceremony’s host, Spanish thesp and model Ines Sastre, kicked off the evening by paying tribute to the centennial of Chinese cinema and wishing it happy birthday.

Despite tight security, ceremony ran on time, indicating the habitually late fest may have started sprucing up its organizational skills.

The Italian press, however, is persevering with its old jingoistic habits.

“Give a Lion to Italian Cinema,” headlined La Repubblica on Wednesday in a front-page editorial lamenting that Italy hasn’t won the top prize since Gianni Amelio’s “The Way We Laughed” in 1998.

Jury prexy Dante Ferretti refused to be intimidated by press demands. “Cinema is international. Even though it is made in different languages, it is a language of images. Its country is unimportant,” he countered at the jury press conference.

Less than 10 years cannot be considered a long wait for a Lion.

The last French pic to nab the Palme d’Or at Cannes was Maurice Pialat’s 1987 “Sous le soleil de Satan,” breaking a dry spell of more than 30 years.

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