Dragon Chronicles - Semi-Gods &Semi-Devils

Hold on a second – my head is still spinning like a top. Sensory overload. Brigitte Lin in all her emotional glory and sensual beauty. Gong Li like Venus ascending to earth. Cheung Man’s ravishing angular beauty. Having all this in one film, sometimes in one frame is almost more than a mortal man can handle. Images of Brigitte throwing her head back and madly laughing, then lovingly gazing, Gong Li raising an eyebrow to show her utter contempt, Cheung Man by turn purring and snarling – all play through my mind like a kaleidoscope of light and vision.
If Dali had been a HK director, he would have made a film like this – it is simply a visually overwhelming film. Sumptuous and ornate – full of sound and fury – the film is a movable feast of astonishing beauty, incredible and surreal sets, exploding bodies, flying people, stunning costumes, mystical stances and larger than life characters. But as Shakespeare’s saying goes regarding sound and fury – it ultimately signifies nothing. What was this film about? The director throws the viewer into a maelstrom of moving pieces and characters and expects them to stay afloat.  But it is all you can do to keep up with the steady stream of gorgeous images flashing by – and trying to understand the film on the first go through is a losing effort.
Perhaps if one were fluent with the language (instead of depending on the sub-titles) or were familiar with the source of the film (a Jin Yong novel) this would not have been so difficult but as it was I spent much of the film going “huh?”, “what?”, “why?”. Apparently though I wasn’t the only one confused as the film did dismal box office business (57th for the year) and was considered quite a flop.
On a second viewing though it became somewhat clearer – though some things still puzzle me. Under any circumstances though, the script is an inarticulate and confusing mess and the story itself is not all that interesting or different from so many of the kung fu flying films – but strictly on a visual and sensory basis – this is an incredible accomplishment. How a HK film can look so good on a budget that is so small in comparison to a Hollywood production is a great mystery to me.
In a nutshell and as best as I could understand it, here are the basic plot threads of this film. At one time Mo Han-wen (Gong Li), Chiu-shui (Brigitte Lin) and Li Chong-hoi  (Chiu-shui’s twin sister played of course by Brigitte as well) all were disciples of Siu Yiu Tze in the Tin San sect and were also close friends. For reasons not entirely clear to me – but something to do with both Mo Han-wen and the Master Siu Yiu Tze being enamored with Li Chong-hoi –  Chiu-shui and Mo Han-wen break away and set up their own sects. The two of them become deadly enemies and are constantly conspiring against one another. They are both near Gods – semi-gods – I suppose - in their powers and attitudes. In fact much of the film plays out like the old stories of the Greek gods constantly fighting among themselves. Don’t expect intricate and complex characterizations – these are Gods and must be viewed as such. Who better of course than Brigitte Lin and Gong Li to play them!
Ting Chun-chou (Norman Chu) is even a lesser god also originally from the Tin San sect, but he too has formed his own power base and is gobbling up other sects in a power play of death and slaughter. One of his disciples is Purple (Cheung Man), but she too harbors ambitions of her own and is conspiring with and against everyone. Throw onto this shamble an innocent monk who it has been foretold will gain great powers from the Master. None of this is spelled out – one has to grasp it in quick flashbacks or expressions. Its much too confusing and with a few moments of exception the film has little heart as it is difficult to sympathize or root for any of these characters.
But for all intents and purposes pay little heed to the plot – instead focus on these three woman and the way that the camera just revels in them – in every gesture and in every expression. In a perverse way this film is a love letter to female beauty, strength and comradeship. Brigitte dominates the screen with an array of scowls, glares, smiles, laughs and dramatic movements. Gong Li simmers and shimmers – more subdued than Brigitte – but her beauty radiates. Cheung Man has perhaps the most interesting character of the three – not yet godlike and bored perhaps with living too long – but is still frisky, alive and enchanting. So drink in these images, this beauty – watch while the good Brigitte gives Gong Li a look of such passion, of such love that we can only dream of.
For the artistry, the images and the women I would think this film is a worthy visit if this is your sort of film – but be prepared to go “huh?” from time to time.

My rating for this film: 10 for the visuals, 5 for the story – averaging to a 7.5

DVD Information

Believe me, for a film like this you want the best transfer possible and this one is gorgeous as it brings out all the color and spectacle within the film.
Distributed by Mei Ah
Not many additional goodies – in fact none – zero – nada.
8 Chapters – but for some reason my DVD player did not even track the time elapsed.
English subs are burned in.
It would have been nice to have a bit more to go with this, but the important thing is the transfer and I think that was absolutely excellent.