The plot of Dragon Inn (Xing long men ze zhan, 1992) is so ordinary it's not worth describing. It has a swordswoman-flautist (Brigitte Lin at least looking ultra-fine in costume), lots of maximumly unrealistic fighting, an evil eunuch to inevitably overcome, & pretty clothes & postures.
Oh, & as if Brigitte Lin weren't enough, there's also the heartstoppingly beautiful Maggie Cheung as Jade, who runs the titular Inn.
As with far too many wuxia extravaganzas of the 1990s, it sounds a lot more promising than is the case. But I do hasten to confess not everyone agrees with me Dragon Inn stinks. Given the context of how awful 1990s wuxia could be, this one stands out as an improvement. Certainly it looks good even when the story it tells is moronic & the action tres-camp.
I am always looking for one of these films that is at least a Touch of Zen wannabe & is trying to be a beautiful & credible film rather than a live-action comic book.
One almost always gets the same-old same-old & I'm sick of wasting my time on meritless horsehocky. When there's a swordswoman character, though, I do find myself baited into giving unpromising stuff a try anyway.
The alternate title New Dragon Inn means to imply this is a sequel to (or very loose remake of) King Hu's original Dragon Inn; aka, Dragon Gate Inn (Long men ke zhan, 1966). Given the excellence of King Hu's films, my expectation of this remake got my hopes up, only to be dashed.
I wish there was a critic of this stuff out there who could be relied upon to point the way to 5% of these films that don't smell bad. But it seems critics are either fans who enjoy swill & can't tell the good from the bad, or are not fans & won't believe gorgeous epics like Touch of Zen or Crouching Tiger are any good either.
Liking Brigitte Lin's looks too well to completely give up on her films, I suckered myself into watching The Three Swordsmen (Dao Jian Xiao, 1994)
A film like this one just reminds me that by & large the golden age of Chinese cinema is twenty or thirty years gone. With the occasional exception like Hero (Ying xiong, 2002), they just don't make 'em like they used to.
The Three Swordsmen has the costumes, the great-to-look-at actors, & the spectacle, but it's just so damned stupid compared to, say, King Hu's Come Drink with Me (Da zui xia, 1966) or some of the Jimmy Wang one-armed swordsman films. There may be a bit of "nostalgia" in that assessment for a wuxia fan of my age, but I'm not responsible for the 1960s & 1970s being called "the golden age" for such films.
The language they're speaking is Cantonese, but there's a Mandarine track. The Cantonese track is a higher quality. Subtitles are in simplified Chinese & English. Transfer on the copy I viewed was fairly decent. At 84 minutes it is far from epic length, thank god, because it felt like three hours.
The three swordsmen of the title can be a little hard to pick out since there are hundreds of swordsmen in the film & a half-dozen or so who seem passingly important. Most obviously one of them is Siu Sam-siu (Andy Lau) who no other character can touch for physical beauty & ridiculously overstated chi power.
The second is Ming Jian, which adds to the confusion only because "he's" played by Brigitte Lin with a man's voice dubbed over hers (on the Cantonese track; the Mandarin track does not have the male voice dubbed in, which is preferable). If such a swords "man" as Brigitte existed, seems "he" should have a back-story about pursuing some Buddhist precept that requires androgyny, but no.
And to confuse matters further, when Siu Sam-siu & Ming Jian find themselves locked in close gaze during a swordfight, there's the distinctive air of budding romance, so apparently someone neglected to inform Andy Lau that Ming Jian is not supposed to be a girl in disguise. Though one has to admit, if men looked like Brigitte Lin, even straight guys would be willing to...
Brigitte has previously played male-impersonator swordswomen quite well even if in no way convincingly male, but this time she's "really" a guy. Sheesh. If only that were the dumbest thing about this film it would only be half bad.
The third swordsman is hardest to spot amidst the horde, but it's Wham Dao (Tsui Kam-kong), the most aggressive looking hence for some while almost the semi-villain, though really he's a good guy too. In the fatuous convolutions of who is faithful to whom & who is traitorous, "good guys" & "bad guys" is not nearly as important as "guys leaping & swinging swords at whoever appears on the screen this time."
Some of the several dvd box-packagings for this film barely show or even leave off Tsui Kam-kong, so that a film promising three swordsman highlights only Brigitte Lin & Andy Lau, so even the promoters had trouble figuring out that Wham Dao is the third character intended by the title. Despite that the film as well as the film packages undermine his importance, Kam-kong is the only actor who manages to invest his character with anything that rises above the ridiculous.
The title in Chinese is three characters that translated "Knife Sword Smile" & indicate the three swordsmen, because Wham Dao fights with a "big knife" according to subtitles though it looks like a huge scimitar; Ming Jian is quick with slender longswords; & Siu Sam-siu never stops smiling.
A jaunty score by Kwok Siu-lam greets us as the tale begins at a martial arts competition intended to settle for exactly one year who is the best swordsman in that part of China. A huge excited crowd is attending the contests, crying out for their given champion & bestowing flowers.
The contest appears to be interupted by a false claim that Sam-siu raped & killed a princess the night before. He flees the premises claiming he'll return in seven days. That plot-thread is dropped completely, as we never quite get back to the contest setting, though it appears to be a forced idea that everything that proceeds thereafter really is the contest & the outcome of all the ensuing chaos will decide who is number one dooky of the year.
The action approaches non-stop with a huge cast of characters who are all poorly developed. There is loads of absurdist swordplay & wire-fu. Sam-sui can chop off heads with a cloth garment, explode foes with a touch, & swords bend against his fingertip & break against his body.
A super-swordsman like that has no serious opponent & so there is no suspense in the choreography, just cartoony momentum. Brigitte as Ming Jian might've seemed a wonderfully powerful figure in a more settled & realistic film, but in this, she, uhm he, barely even qualifies as a second-fiddle to the overblown Sam-sui, meaning there's really no reason to even have the silly-ass contest, Sam-sui is for sure the chief dooky.
Though there's no shortage of loony swordplay & pretty clothes, wuxia fantasy-historicals really couldn't be much more dull than this. Rather than a plot there are excuses for more flying swordfights that resolve nothing. The rapid subtitling is often unreadably white on white background, which sure doesn't help. There's some tepid comedy tossed in. And there's a dull three-way love story between Red Leaves, Sam-siu, & Miss Butterfly that ain't for a moment interesting.
Very occasionally the action stops for one or another character to make a feeble stab at explaining what the story context might be. They never succeed at making it sound reasonable.
If fast motion of beautiful actors posturing like comic book heroes is your main delight, The Three Swordsmen will suffice. But if a good story & credible action is a requirement, Three Swordsman will prove a gaudy silly bore.
copyright © by Paghat the Ratgirl