THREE (OR FOUR) THE FUN WAY
The Complete Musketeers (Anchor Bay)
Heroic Trio (Miramax)
Walking out of The Two Towers, I felt a great rush of giddiness knowing that there were only 12 months to wait for the third Lord of the Rings installment. Fans will surely feel the same way when they leave the Matrix movie this spring and know a third will descend just after the long summer. You would think producers of big adventure epics would do this more often.
Unsurprisingly, Richard Lester - whose anarchic A Hard Day's Night was certainly ahead of its time - beat Peter Jackson and the Wachowski Brothers to the punch. He shot his Three Musketeers and Four Musketeers together, and released them within a year of each other, allowing him the luxury of ending the first film with "but wait - there's more!" clips from the second. The films are joined for posterity in Anchor Bay's new double disc set, The Complete Musketeers.
The director left behind much of the snarky wordplay of his first English films, making these yarns comprehensible to young children and Americans, but upped the slapstick quotient considerably. When our simple-minded swordsmen aren't busy challenging each other to duels, they're falling over something; or even better, the buxom Raquel Welch is falling over something. Mildly randy, largely anti-establishment, and altogether lighthearted, these Musketeers are a perfect '70s version of an earlier era's swashbuckling hijinks.
Replace sabers with poison darts, frilly tunics with leather bustiers, and men with women, and you've got the Hong Kong import The Heroic Trio (Miramax), one of the most lovable Asian action films of the '90s. It's hard to recommend this new disc wholeheartedly, as its soundtrack is dubbed by lousy English-speaking actors (subtitles aren't an option), but at least the image is widescreen.
The eponymous trio are comic-book-like heroes who start the film on opposite sides. One is kidnapping babies for a mysterious lord of the Underworld, one is a soldier of fortune, one is hiding her identity from her detective husband. All three are ass-kicking, wall-climbing babes who fly through the air on often-visible wires. Many of the special effects are, um, unsophisticated, but in this case that only adds to the Saturday-matinee fun of it; nobody's asking you to take the story seriously, and in fact they would probably be bummed out if you did.
There are great action scenes throughout, and it's nice to see Michelle Yeoh and Maggie Cheung not playing second fiddle to any guys, but the movie would be essential even if its only pleasure were the final showdown, in which a skeleton villain worthy of Sam Raimi comes to do evil things to the world. Unless somebody finds a deleted scene from Evil Dead with fight choreography by Woo-ping Yuen, you're unlikely to see anything like it soon. •