The Magnificent Trio Review
Of the numerous directors to work under the Shaw Brothers throughout the years, Chang Cheh (here credited as Cheuh) is one of the more distinctive. Initially mooted as a successor to King Hu when he directed Golden Swallow, the follow-up to Hu’s Come Drink With Me, Chang is perhaps the less characteristic of the two (his filmography doesn’t quite boast a film in the same league as A Touch of Zen), yet during the sixties he produced a number of efforts now rightfully hailed as classics. The Magnificent Trio is the latest of his films to arrive on disc in the UK and whilst it may pale in comparison to The New One-Armed Swordsman or The Chinese Connection (both of which are still awaiting the R2 treatment), it’s no doubt one of the standouts of Momentum Asia’s Shaw Brothers collection to date.
That said, The Magnificent Trio’s set up is decidedly inauspicious. A group of irate villagers have kidnapped the county magistrate’s daughter as a protest against his deep rooted corrupt ways, a cause which is gradually championed, as the film progresses, by the magnificent trio of the title. A period drama – as many of the Shaw productions were – there is also talk of war and certain dynasties, though the political and historical contexts are likely to be lost on a western audience (such films were, of course, primarily directed towards the Asian market, an audience to whom such intricacies would presumably be common knowledge). However, such is the traditional nature of the storytelling that it will no doubt be familiar to foreign eyes courtesy of its Western equivalents – swap the magistrate for a cattle baron and we’ve seen this film countless times before. Indeed, it can hardly be a coincidence that the title echoes The Magnificent Seven, a film which, of course, borrowed whole-heartedly from an East Asian original, Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai.
Much like the Western, The Magnificent Trio also concerns itself with what would best be described as “old values”. For all the plot twists and intrigue this is essentially a tale of good versus evil or right versus wrong. Moreover, such ideals as friendship and chivalry are firmly upheld whilst there’s an awful lot of self-sacrifice for the greater good – and, of course, it’s never in vain as the wrong doers eventually get their comeuppance.
Given this moralistic tone, there is undoubtedly something classical about The Magnificent Trio and it’s an element rightly picked up on by Chang. He approaches the material with a respect that results in an unfussy, no-nonsense style – indeed, I believe this is the first Shaw brothers movie I have seen not to include a single crash zoom. This isn’t to say that Chang is anonymous in his approach; simply that he understands when not to interfere. Instead, he keeps thing taut which proves especially fitting during the action sequences. To continue the Western analogy, the film treats them as the equivalent of a single bullet gunfight – terse and straight to the point. It results in a brash, snappy picture which may lack the distinguishing features of Chang’s better efforts, but still proves more than worthwhile.
The Magnificent Trio arrives on disc in much the same way as Momentum Asia’s other Shaw Brothers releases. That is to say that the picture and sound are largely flawless and provide both the original aspect ratio and original Mandarin mono (with optional English subtitles) of their theatrical screenings, but are let down by the non-anamorphic presentation. If we were to compare them to the other five Shaw titles released to date, then The Magnificent Trio is perhaps a little softer in places than others, but then it is also the oldest release having been made in 1966 and as such perhaps this is to be expected. As for extras, the standard batch of promos for the other releases in the collection is the only additional feature.