The Three Swordmen

If someone is able to figure their way through this convoluted and misshapen film, the mythical labyrinth on the island of Crete should be a snap. This film is an absolute mess from beginning to end with only sumptuous production values and a few moments of flash to hold one's interest. I'd like to say the fine cast was a positive, but they are so poorly used that it made me squirm. The editing is simply appalling for a well budgeted film such as this - not only in  action scenes that have you scratching your head in puzzlement and annoyance, but the basic narrative flow often leaves you guessing where the characters are and what their physical positions are in regards to one another. On top of this are subtitles that are incomprehensible at times and laughingly informal at others. Coming near the end of the popularity of the fantasy flying kung fu films, this one certainly added one more nail in the coffin.
You know you are in trouble when the first five minutes of the film is taken up by an attempt to explain the characters and the background of the story - about three minutes into it and I wanted to scream out "stop, before my head explodes!". Essentially, the film is about two master Swordsmen -  Andy Lau and Brigitte Lin. Yes, that was swordsMEN as Brigitte Lin plays a man. Not disguised as a man mind you or a man transmuting into a woman - but simply as a man. Of course, there is a tradition in Chinese film with having women sometimes playing male roles (though this came to an end for the most part by the end of the 60's) - but here it just doesn't work. Brigitte Lin doesn't look masculine in the least bit - and somehow trying to portray a man makes her very colorless and bland - a sin in my book. She also has next to nothing to do in this film but look solemn and the fact that she is dubbed by a man certainly doesn't help matters (though John Charles points out that she is dubbed by a female on the Mandarin track!). Andy on the other hand is all phony charm - looking more lounge lizard than deadly swordsman here.
The plot . . . ah the plot . . . my kingdom for a plot - I really am not at all sure what it was. Someone is trying to destroy Brigitte's family and they initiate a plan that first frames Andy for murder thus hoping to force Brigitte to protect him from the royal family and leaving her own family open to charges of treason. Tsui Kam Kong is the honorable lawman (and the third swordsman of the title) who chases Andy across the region and Yu Li is the member of Brigitte's family that seems to have an agenda of her own and hair that is as deadly as any sword.
Some of the action has moments of imagination - but generally it has such rapid edits and a camera that moves as swiftly as the actors do that it is nearly impossible to grasp what is going on. After a while it becomes extremely monotonous and only a great performance from Brigitte could have saved this - but regrettably she is never given the chance.

My rating for this film: 3.5



DVD Information:

Distributed by Universe

The transfer  is terrific - great colors and very sharp.

Letterboxed

Cantonese and Mandarin language tracks 

Subtitles:  Unfortunately, Universe does an unusually poor job with the subs. There are only burnt on Chinese and English subs and often they are difficult to see against the background and at least on my DVD player they occasionally fell below the screen.

Also surprisingly for Universe, there are no extras - no trailer or previews

There are 8 chapter stops.