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Just another example of how awesome and unique wuxia could be before Crouching Tiger came along and turned it into another fast food genre. It exists in the deep end of opera-derived Shaw Brothers fantasy productions, unapologetically somewhere in its own little universe with otherworldly visuals and noble, archaic values. Like a lot of these films, it's complex--nobody is what they seem, but instead of the layers of conspiracy cluttering things up and turning into a convoluted mess, the film urges the audience to set aside continuity and view the narrative as perfunctory to its morals. The word "dreamlike" gets tossed around a lot, but this is one of the movies that deserves it; sets, lighting and color schemes get more and more opulent and ethereal as the plot rambles further away from logic, only to play with your suspension of disbelief with the last ridiculous plot twist. Not only is the film more visually impressive than single-minded stylists like Dario Argento Mario Bava, it actually bothers to synthesize its visual style with the story's emotional content in an active, evolving way.
Of particular note is Wen Hsueh-erh, who plays one of the most charmingly sociopathic, insane characters I've seen in a movie. She avoids the obvious juxtaposition of a "girlish, giggling" rapist/murderer and instead comes off like a slightly vacant tomboy who just happens to enjoy human suffering.
It's not perfect, but doesn't really need to be. The action is mostly just clumsy wavey-arm fare, besides a particularly well choreographed (and early slow-mo, to show it off) shot of Ti Lung or a stunt double jumping and grabbing a sword with his feet. A small flaw in an otherwise sumptuous film. The cast is also overly large, full of throwaway red herring characters you won't be sure whether or not you're supposed to pay attention to, but in a way it helps; a plot this twisty doesn't want you instantly designating a protagonist or antagonist.
If you liked The Magic Blade or Killer Clans you need to see this, and vice-versa applies.
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