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This big hit at the Sundance Film Festival had audiences cheering. Set during the Ming Dynasty, this acclaimed production tells the story of a power hungry eunuch who employs an evil sect in his quest to rule China. An extravagant climax features dizzying acrobatics and masterful fight sequences. Written by
Towne 3, San Jose, Ca
Enjoyable but not as great as the reviews here suggest
Large swathes of China are falling under the despotic rule of Cao Shao-qin as he and his merciless Black Flag riders slaughter Government officials and anyone who threatens his rule. When Cao captures the children of a murdered Lord, Zhou Huai-an mounts a rescue mission led by Qiu Moy-an. With the children and her men, Qiu meets Zhou at the Dragon Inn, owed by the outlaw Jin Xiangyu who is only out for what she can make for herself. With the pass shut, some of Cao's men arrive at the inn sparking a stand-off between the two groups with the money-grabbing Jin in the middle. As the days pass, bad weather keep the groups in the inn while Cao and the Black Riders close in.
I borrowed this film from a friend with no prior knowledge of it, so I checked out the reviews on imdb to get a taste for what it would be like. I was immediately dubious when people, who had clearly only experienced this genre by seeing `Crouching Tiger' in their multiplex, were calling it the greatest HK film ever made and other such absurd claims. Also the way in which many users have compared this to `Crouching Tiger' also suggests that that is the only benchmark they have. However I settled to watch it.
For the most part I enjoyed it. The plot worked quite well in miniature and only got weak in the final 10 minutes where it just seemed to collapse into an illogical confrontation. The story is laced with humour which mostly works and has some nice touches (the teasing striptease-come-fight between Jin and Qiu was fun) but I did have a nasty taste due to some of the strong language and crudity which seemed out of place.
What didn't work as well for me were the selfsame scenes that other reviewers have been raving about the fights. In some of the scenes there are touches of clever choreography but often it is a swirling mix of arms and legs that is lost in editing that is far too quick at times to allow us to fully appreciate the moves. The final fight (which again some users have called one of the greatest fights ever filmed!) is OK but not as acrobatic or inspiring as I'd have liked also it's gore spoils the actual action to the point where it is laughable rather than exciting. This is not to say that the fights are without merits (most of them are pretty good) but they are quite ordinary at times and lack a real imagination. They are still exciting but don't be sucked in by the gushing praise from these pages.
The cast are all pretty good with some exceptions. Leung is quite sturdy and delivers a character without too much flair but prevents him from being too wooden. Donnie Yen was a disappointment for me. His role consisted mostly of two cameos one at the start where he sit passively and the other at the end in an overly-gory fight scene which was so lost in a sand storm that his skills were not fully displayed. The two women really made the film for me they both had different characters but also mixed it up and delivered the comedy. Maggie Cheung probably shaded it as she had the most interesting character but Lin was also very good.
Overall I enjoyed the film and am not suggesting that it is a bad film only a bit too gory for my tastes. It is lightly funny and there is plenty of swordplay but it certainly never reaches the cinematic heights of ecstasy that are alluded to by some of the reviews here.
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