The Three Swordsmen (1994)
Reviewed by: ewaffle on 2008-03-22
“The Three Swordsmen” is a bit past the halfway point when one of Wham Dao's men tells him "I don't understand". This is shared by most of the audience since who is doing what to whom and why gets more difficult to figure out as the film progresses--or at least unspools since progress some type of coherent forward motion. The movie begins with some very lengthy exposition, an announcer on stage telling an unruly crowd what has happened so far and why they are all there—the people in the crowd show their displeasure by throwing flowers. The announcement goes on for much too long and is too detailed leading one to think, “Why didn't they just film what he is talking about--it sounds pretty exciting.”

There are some decent stunts although nothing amazing. It isn't that we have seen all the stunts before--anyone who has watched a few hundred (or a few thousand) Hong Kong movies has seen everything before. The swordplay, exploding ninjas, flying decapitations and other effects work if they occur in the context of a movie with a plot we can follow and characters that interest us. Then they can be fresh and exciting because people we care about are doing them. Without that connection it is just another swordplay movie--which this isn't. Given the star power and, at least apparently, the money spent on sets and costumes, "The Three Swordsmen" is a crashing failure.

Several plot lines begin only to be abandoned. The most noticeable involves prisoners encased in blocks of ice who are being transported to a desolate wasteland and who must be rescued—either before the ice melts or before they arrive at the destination. We never find out which it is because one the scene is set with the huge frozen blocks in place on a wagon, cushioned with straw and ready to move, it is never seen or even mentioned again. And just about everything else is mentioned—over and over. There is some sword fighting but much more talk about revenge, honor and duplicity than there is action in “The Three Swordsmen”. It may be that this movie is classified as a comedy due to these constant interruptions to explain what we don’t get to see—although they aren’t funny just annoying.

When Siu Sam-Siu is pursued by the forces of law and order they are told to use the “Super Arrow” against him. It sounds like quite a weapon but we will never know since that is the only time it is mentioned. One seemingly minor but very telling slip is an extreme close-up of Siu Sam-Siu’s left hand he holds Butterfly’s hand to comfort her. Andy Lau’s hand is uniformly tanned except for white band on ring finger where the actor (apparently) wears his wedding ring. It is the kind of minor but flaw that slips though in just about every movie that is released but here it is part of the lack of care and general sloppiness that characterizes “The Three Swordsmen” and one is much less forgiving. Wedding bands aside, Andy Lau comes across as much too modern and insouciant, always ready with a knowing smirk to make sure the audience is in on the joke. This is in jarring contrast to Brigitte Lin and Elvis Tsui who play their parts straight. Since all three are talented artists with long experience and demonstrated commitment to their work it must be assumed that they were directed to act as if they were in different movies from each other.

On the plus side, both Yu Li and Tung Wai-Wai are extremely attractive young actresses who acquit themselves well. Some followers of Ming Kim are dressed in very campy costumes—they seem to be slave laborers whose clothing is made of straw and who work around a number of braziers with open flames. It was spectacularly weird looking and made one think much more about safety on the set than the content of the movie. This non-arboreal druid looking people didn’t have any other function. They didn’t rise up against their oppressors or rally around Ming Kim’s cause or do much of anything else other than keep from setting their costumes afire.

Not recommended
Reviewer Score: 2