Three Swordsmen Review

Such is Three Swordsmen’s terrific energy, all of its exposition has to be crammed into the opening minutes. Too fast, in fact, as most of it goes over our heads if we’re not paying the utmost attention. A huge cast of characters either arrive on-screen or are discussed, each with some ridiculous moniker: Smiling Man, Ming Sword and Sabre being the eponymous martial artists (or at least according to these subtitles they are). There’s some intrigue as to events several years ago, a forthcoming duel, a magical army and talk of the “number one hero”.

It’s all frankly baffling, yet Three Swordsmen makes perfect sense in generic terms. We fully understand that this is a martial arts flick, a comedy, a fantasy and strays into romance territory with one of its subplots. Moreover, the narrative trajectories - a chase and a quest for the truth - are easily negotiated even if many of the actual details are difficult to pin down. What’s important here is that the film doesn’t have any grandiose plans and instead views itself as simple entertainment. And in this respect Three Swordsmen proves an undoubted success.

Indeed, the makers are fully aware of the solely lightweight aspirations and as such concentrate on them wholeheartedly. The most immediate aspect of Three Swordsmen - beyond its near incomprehensibility - is its great charm. Though quite clearly made on a low budget, the film is often a visual feast, particularly the flower-ridden opening scene that seems almost Bollywood in its execution. Moreover, its relative cheapness gives the special effects the only option of being crude but direct, yet it is their simplicity which makes them so inviting; as with Cocteau’s La Belle et la bête and Orphée you know exactly how they’ve been done, but there’s still something quite magical about them. And then, of course, there’s the casting of such charismatic stars as Andy Lau and Brigitte Lin (bizarrely playing a man and thus dubbed in a male voice), both of whom leave no mystery as to why Wong Kar-Wai - that purveyor of cinematic charisma - employed them on a number of occasions. Indeed, it’s best simply to sit back and allow Three Swordsmen to wash over you, enjoying its component factors (including a pop score that occasionally flirts with reggae) rather than holding out for any great revelations.

The Disc

As with a number of Optimum Asia’s recent martial arts discs, Three Swordsmen arrives in rather shoddy condition. As well as being non-anamorphic, the print used is clearly showing signs of age having picked up dirt and various scratches over the past decade. There’s also evidence of tramlining and the image is more than a little on the soft side. As for the soundtrack, Optimum have issued the film in its original Cantonese stereo with optional English subtitles. The subtitles offer few typographical errors though they completely ignore the opening and closing credits, whilst the sound remains reasonably crisp and clean throughout without ever truly impressing. With regards to special features, the disc is completely lacking in them.

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Last updated: 19/04/2018 09:06:06

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