The early 90s were a golden age for Hong Kong cinema. A generation of seasoned directors started a true onslaught of martial arts and fantasy cinema that would continue for about four years. Famed directors like Tsui Hark, Jing Wong, Johnnie To, Woo-ping Yuen, Ringo Lam and Corey Yuen pumped out one martial arts classic after another. There was a time that I madly devoured each and every single film I could get my hands on, but some years ago I started to feel like I'd seen them all. Luckily I still get a friendly reminder now and then, pointing me to some films that escaped my attention.
Dragon Chronicles: The Maidens of Heaven [Xin Tian Long Ba Bu Zhi Tian Shan Tong Lao] is one of those films that I hadn't heard of until just recently. It's more fantasy-oriented than action-oriented (think Hark's Zu Warriors) and it wasn't directed by one of the big names, but it has all the elements that makes this type of film so spectacular. On top of that, it also sports a pretty high-profile cast, so it's a little hard to imagine why this particular film got left behind. Quality or entertainment value clearly weren't the main reason though, because it's a real joy to watch.
When you're planning to see this film though, come prepared. If you're looking for a quiet, peaceful evening of film, Dragon Chronicles probably isn't your best choice. It's one of those absolutely manic martial arts/fantasy blends that hits the ground running and never seems to slow down. There's a bunch of characters that are all related and are constantly fighting which each other, whether you actually want to keep track of it all is more of a personal choice. I prefer to let it go a little (because really, I'm not watching these films for their great storylines) and I just appreciate them for their spectacular action and crazy pacing. Dragon Chronicles really isn't an exception to that rule.
The only reason why I feel this doesn't qualify as one of the better/best films in the genre is due to its somewhat lackluster direction, which does get a little too flakey at times. These films often lack true attention to detail and they're a little rough around the edges by default, but their vigor and enthusiasm tend to make up for that. Sadly Chin takes a few too many short cuts. Some scenes are a little iffy and the effects in particular can get a little too low budget, even though the rest of the film looks pretty nice.
Don't let that deter you though, because there's a lot of fun to be had with this one. There are plenty of insane fights, the film is littered with wacky comedy and Brigitte Lin, Gong Li, Man Cheung and Norman Chu clearly had a lot of fun on set. Not exactly prize-winning material of course, it's all about big gestures and manic laughter, but they make it work alright. The magic effects are a little subpar, but there isn't much time to be annoyed by all of that because of the film's lightning pacing. Dragon Chronicles: The Maidens of Heaven is an energetic and hilarious action film, especially if you have a soft spot for early 90s Hong Kong martial arts cinema.