Lee Khan, a high official under Mongolian Emperor Yuan of the Yuan dynasty (year 1366) procures the battle map of the Chinese rebel Chu Yuan-Chang's army. Rebel spies, aided by treachery within Khan's ranks, strive to corner him in an inn.
A kung-fu manual known as the sacred scroll is stolen from the Emperor's library. An army detachment is sent to recover it. Meanwhile, a young swordsman and his fellow disciple are accidentally drawn into the chaos.
This 3-parter uses the same 3 leads in each of its parts. Through reincarnation, 3 people meet in 3 different periods of Chinese history. Director King Hu opens with a Ming Dynasty tale of ... See full summary »
Ching Sui Tung, long time admirer of King Hu (he helped arrange Hu's direction of the first Swordsman film), was to take the bare bones of this film and make his legendary "Chinese Ghost Story" films. It's about a monk on retreat to an isolated temple in order to write a sutra, who thereby comes under the observation of two female ghosts who may or not actually fall in love him - Hu maintains a careful ambiguity on this and other issues, clearly conveying to the audience the very confusion of the scholar himself, who never quite gets a handle on what he's accidentally walked into here.
But in the last analysis, this is neither ghost story nor romance, but a determined effort on Hu's part to make a visually beautiful set-piece of open, well-lit Chinese landscape, and high-contrast, sharply defined interiors. In short, it is an attempt to make a beautiful work of art.
Because Hu's principle interest is just this visual beauty, the pacing of the film gets a little slow at times, and Hu shows no interest in "cutting to the chase" story-telling. Consequently, I think he has succeeded in this artistic perfectionism, but at a price, which is that the film is not going to appeal to a wide audience. But given some patience, it offers real rewards to the senses.
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