In the late 80's and early 90's there was an explosion of fantasy swordplay films slashing and spinning across HK cinema screens. Some of the more popular ones were Bride with White Hair, Swordsman 2 and Dragon Inn. But, by 1994 the wave had pretty much ended, and Three Swordsmen had already apparently sat on the shelf for a year before it was unceremoniously released in theaters only to quickly disappear due to an unenthusiastic audience.
Here is a case where you have an all star cast, including the likes of Andy Lau (God of Gamblers, Days of Being Wild, Savior of the Soul), Bridgette Lin (Swordsman 2, Chunking Express, Peking Opera Blues), and Elvis Tsui (Gunmen, Viva Erotica, Royal Tramp) hamming it up as the title characters. You get a director like Taylor Wong who previously handled big name stars in Rich and Famous and had a hand in directing two of the big forerunners to the new wave fantasy action movement with the early 80's films Buddha's Palm and (one of my nonsense, wacko faves) Return of the Deadly Blade. But it all fails because it has an uninvolving, nearly incomprehensible story. I cannot imagine they had more than a rough idea of a plot because they never stick to any idea, commit to any real story. Its like the done to death blurry, slow motion, wirework, sword swinging fight choreography and its roster of names should be enough to ensure healthy box office. Well, it isn't. There are so may reasons I should love this movie. Great cast, and the genre is one of my favorites. Its a film where the lead character can decapitate his enemies, just with a flutter of his robe, but, like his foes, it all falls apart in every way.
The story is a complete mess. I mean, it is so bad, it is nearly impossible for me surmise. Between bad writing and bad sub translation, its a real chore. There is complicated backstory that is only spoken of, events offscreen, all told in such a mediocre, ill-translated way, you can tell its a disaster no matter what the language and even if it was translated perfectly. There are also entire conversations that are seemingly psychically communicated, two actors speaking, yet their mouths don't move. The direction and editing is so dizzying, that too makes just the job of "Who is that flying in the air?" tough to decipher much less where people are standing and what exactly is the location. For Example... At one moment it looks like our hero, Sam Sui (Andy Lau) and Butterfly are escaping the soldiers pursuing them in a field. Then Butterfly falls off a cliff into a river. Sam Sui continues to fight on the field before suddenly disappearing into the ground. Dao (Elvis Tsui), the commander pursuing Sam Sui, informs his men to "Search the celler." Butterfly, underwater and drowning, swims up to some rocks, movies them aside, and sees Sam Sui, trapped in ice. Thats right, trapped in ice. He then busts through the ice, grabs her, and leaps out of the river, landing in the field again. He puts her on a horse and this is, word for word, his instructions to her- "Here is dangerous. Listen to me. No matter what, just leave here first. You'll go towards the West. Count the numbers from 1 to 7. Ride up the horse. Later you can see me." She then rides away only to have him- for no apparent reason- tie a rope to the horse so he can fight and then bungee jump onto the horse after she rides a couple of feet away???
The basic plot, as best I can surmise through the headache I'm still suffering from (and was caused by the film)... Sam Sui is a master swordsman at some competition for master swordsmen, where he is framed for murdering a royal family member. Soon, he and Butterfly, a member of some rival sword school who has the hots for him, are running around being pursued by a ninjalike sword sect and the army commanded by a, guess what?, master swordsman Dao. Dao's terminally ill daughter, Red Leaf, was a onetime love of Sam Sui. Anyway after a couple of battles where Sam Sui defeats all comers very easily, he and Butterfly go to Swords Villa to rescue her sister and meet up with Ming Jian Kim, yet another master swordsman. After Ming Jian and Sam Sui spend long minutes swiping the empty air, the ground, and flying around, some guy named Yun Dong Wong breaks out of the ground, is a leader of some sort, and was buried for 7 yrs. Something like that, by this point my temples were throbbing... Anyway, the armies all converge on this spot, wanting to arrest the wrongly accused Sam Sui, but he is injured, so they decide to let him rest and have a grand duel. Anyway there's some kind of backstabbing... Butterfly is kidnapped... Someone wants Ming Jai to be the master swordsman... A Prince shows up to judge the duel... Everybody fights... Its awkwardly filmed making what's going on hard to discern, and you don't really care anyway... Its a mess and it made my head hurt.
The DVD: World Video
Picture- Widescreen. Ugh. Its pretty much the broken record when referring to World Video, but the quality is sub par. The picture is pretty much like a vhs, pretty grainy and soft with muted colors. Very bright. It isn't quite the full aspect ratio so the burned in subtitles are slightly cropped at the corners during long speeches.
Sound-Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono, Cantonese or Mandarin with burned in white English subtitles. Nothing to write home about, but it gets the job done. The subs are pretty blurry, and considering three of the four main characters wear white, they disappear and are completely illegible during many parts of the film.
Extras- My screener was a barebones edition, but World Video kindly informed me that the one in stores will have the following... Chapter Stops--- Film Info--- Film notes--- Taylor Wong filmography---Andy Lau filmography--- Bridgette Lin filmography---Bridgette Lin biography
Conclusion: Bad movie, weak transfer. May want to save your money. There are far better new wave swordplay movies out there and on better DVDs. Its only good if you sadistically want to give yourself a migrane or you are a Asain cinema completist or one of those Andy Lau obsessives.