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The Three Swordsmen

From left to right: Tsui Kam-Kong, Brigitte Lin and Andy Lau are The Three Swordsmen.
Year: 1994
Director: Taylor Wong Tai-Loi  
Producer: Liu Gin-Faat
Action: Tony Leung Siu-Hung, Yuen Bun
Cast: Andy Lau Tak-Wah, Brigitte Lin Ching-Hsia, Tsui Kam-Kong, Yu Li, Leung Si-Ho, Siqin Gaowa, Tung Wai-Wai, Chiu Chin, Gan Tak-Mau
The Skinny: A good cast, interesting premise, and nifty production values can't save The Three Swordsmen from being the convoluted, dizzying spectacle that it unfortunately is. While by no means the nadir of the wuxia genre, this nonsensical fight-fest will be disappointing for most HK cinephiles.
Review by

     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 shenanigans.
     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 man—as 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)


Region 0 NTSC
Universe Laser
Cantonese and Mandarin Language Tracks
Dolby Digital 5.1

English and Chinese subtitles



image courtesy of Universe Laser and Video Co., Ltd. Copyright 2002-2017 Ross Chen