Tsui Hark's spectacular and fanciful production of "The East Is Red: Swordsman 3," a dazzling yet poignant martial-arts period fantasy, takes up where the last installment left off. In "Swordsman 2," a cautionary tale about absolute power corrupting absolutely, an ambitious member of the monastic Sun Moon sect of Chinese Highlanders steals its magic sacred scrolls and decides that his lust for power will be more easily realized if, through the scrolls' magic, he gradually evolves into a fierce female warrior called Asia the Invincible. (This explains why throughout "The East Is Red" the deadly but gorgeous Brigitte Lin as Asia is always referred to as a male.)
At the outset of the new film Asia is believed to be dead, but the virile young Naval Officer Koo (Yu Rong-guang) suspects the demon lurks in the ruins of the Sun Moon monastery, where he persuades her to destroy those who are claiming that they are in fact Asia the Invincible at the expense of innocent lives.
The stylish, slyly amusing "The East Is Red" is charged with both sexual ambiguity and a hostility toward the Ming Dynasty's oppression of the Highlanders and also toward greedy Dutch explorers and Japanese ninja sailors, who arrive in a quaint submarine to do battle with a Sun Moon junk under the captaincy of the beautiful Snow (Joey Wong), whose entire crew are her lovers. Amid much swordplay, elaborate kung-foolery and a complicated plot, Koo falls for Snow who in turn is so enamored of the cruel and capricious but ultimately lonely Asia that she's ready to die for her in an instant.
Inevitably, Koo and Asia square away in what can be simultaneously regarded as an epic battle of the sexes and a man taking on an intrinsically male demon. Either way--or both--"The East Is Red," which was directed vigorously by Ching Siu-tung and Raymond Lee, is lots of fun for Hong Kong martial arts fans.
\o7 * MPAA rating\f7 : Unrated.\o7 Times guidelines: It includes standard martial arts violence plus considerable references to sexuality. \f7 'The East Is Red: Swordsman 3'
Brigitte Lin: Asia the Invincible
Joey Wong: Snow
Yu Rong-guang; Naval Officer Koo
A Golden Princess presentation of a Film Workshop production. Directors/associate producers Ching Siu-tung, Raymond Lee. Producer Tsui Hark. Martial arts director Ching Siu-tung. Music Wu Wai-lap. No further credits available. In Cantonese, with English and Chinese subtitles. Running time: 1 hour, 43 minutes.
\o7 * Exclusively at the Monica 4-Plex, 1332 2nd St., Santa Monica, (310) 394-9741. Fridays and Saturdays at midnight. \f7