Let's check the stats
on The Three Swordsmen, shall we? The film boasts a stellar
cast that includes the likes of Andy Lau, Brigitte Lin and Tsui
Kam-Kong. These three highly recognizable actors play the titular
swordsmen, each of whom seeks to gain supremacy over the martial
world. Add to the mix a plot straight from The Fugitive,
and the familiar trappings of the flying fantasy kung fu genre,
and The Three Swordsmen seems like a surefire hit, right?
Wrong. Conceptually and visually, the film may resemble wuxia
classics like Swordsman 2 or Dragon Inn, but sadly,
this one pales in comparison to those highly acclaimed films.
The plot, from what I can gather,
involves the upcoming duel between two of three famous martial
artists, Siu Sam-Siu (Andy Lau) and Ming Jian (Brigitte Lin).
The third swordsman, Wham Dao (Tsui Kam-Kong), has seemingly retired
from fighting and will not be participating in this heralded "brawl
to end all." But early in the film, Siu Sam-Siu is framed
for murder. In the tradition of Dr. Richard Kimble, Siu flees
from his captors in an effort to bring the real killer to justice.
Essentially the Inspector Gerard of the film, Wham Dao (whose
name means "George Michael Sword" in Chinese) returns
from semi-retirement to capture the famous swordsman himself.
Along the way, Sam gets mixed up with a couple pretty girls named
Butterfly and Red Leaves, who have nothing better to do than devote
their lives to him. As one would expect, the three swordsmen are
locked on a collision course for the film's final, epic duel which
will reveal the true mastermind behind all these murder-mystery
Sounds pretty interesting, doesn't
it? And it really could have been because The Three Swordsmen
has all the elements: three equally intriguing swordsmen, a plot
chock full of intrigue and betrayal, and even a touch of romance.
But director Taylor Wong doesn't seem to know how to handle any
of these positives. The plot is rushed, numerous characters are
introduced within the space of only minutes, and their motivations
are sketchy at best. A scorecard of sorts is provided each time
a new character or location appears, but since I can't read Chinese,
it's a moot point. And the action sequences are so poorly edited
that some fights just seem to be a collage of whipping cloaks
and clanging swords. The visible wires at focal emotional points
doesn't help either! Granted, none of these actors are real martial
artists, so doubles and visual tricks have to be employed to cover
up that fact, but the result is just so dizzying that it leaves
the viewer with a splitting headache. And don't get me started
on the ending, which is probably one of the most ridiculous, anticlimactic
duels in Hong Kong cinema history.
Andy Lau and Tsui Kam-Kong acquit
themselves nicely in their respective roles, but HK goddess Brigitte
Lin is poorly used. It's no secret that ever since Lin's legendary
role as Asia the Invincible in Swordsman 2, she has been
typecast. She usually plays a powerful woman, a woman masquerading
as a man, or even a manas is the case in The Three Swordsmen.
In films like The Bride With White Hair and Dragon Inn,
this kind of typecasting is actually good thing, for her parts
in those films were plum roles. But here it seems that conceit
has run its course. For one thing, why cast a female as a male
in this film? Unless the filmmakers wanted to add another layer
of homoerotic subtext between the swordsmen, Lin's casting seems
to be more about her reputation than her suitability for the part.
Furthermore, her character expresses little emotion; it's almost
if the director told her, "Just stand here, say the lines,
and hope the action choreography carries you through the movie."
Well, it doesn't.
Despite my biting remarks, I didn't
absolutely hate The Three Swordsmen. If you're a big fan
of any of the lead actors or just aching for a HK swordplay flick
you haven't seen before, then by all means take a look at this
film. But don't expect it to be on par with its wuxia peers because
if you do, the only compelling duel you'll be having is with boredom.
(Calvin McMillin 2003)