Director: Cheung Hoi-ching
Writer: Cheung Hoi-ching, Wai San
Producer: Cheung Hoi-ching
Cast: Yuen Biao, Yip Chuen-chan, Sharla Cheung, Danny Lee, Anita Yuen, Elizabeth Lee, Ng Man-tat, Helen Ma, Wu Ma, Elvis Tsui, Pauline Wong, Melvin Wong, Tai Bo, Peter Chan
Running Time: 95 min.
By JJ Hatfield
In a temple along the edge of a quiet river, men have gathered to mourn the tragic death of their beloved leader Marshall Yuen, and to swear vengeance upon all those who plotted his violent demise. Without warning, a flurry of arrows fills the air followed by the screams of the injured and dying. Ambushed and outnumbered, Yuen’s troops fall quickly under the attack until the sudden appearance of a mysterious and mighty fighter, who bears an exquisite sword of unearthly power.
The scene shifts to the young Constable Yuen Ching Shi (Yuen Biao) going about his business when he comes across a mischievous young woman (Cheung Man), who has been caught in highway robbery. Although this was not in his plans, he must escort her to jail and assure she has a fair trial. Being a very dedicated officer of the law, he would do no less. Before they even begin the journey, the air erupts in an enormous battle with combatants popping up everywhere. Opponents that move underground, women who fight with spider hooks and ‘spiderwebs’, a literal army of fighters using every imaginable sort of spear and sword and even the great fighter with the most unusual weapon, Golden Snake Man himself (Danny Lee) are only a few of the colorful characters involved in the frantic conflict. There are so many people fighting in fact it is nearly impossible to determine exactly what is going on, but by the time it is over, Ching Shi has inadvertently come between fierce opposing forces, none interested in justice.
Ching Shi has the most unusual of experiences as he encounters Ha Suet-Yee, the Golden Snake Man and doesn’t die. The fact that he lived was indeed unusual as the Golden Snake Man was not in the habit of leaving those who had seen him alive. Through several encounters, Golden Snake Man begins to develop respect for the honest and sincere server of justice, but remains a dangerous unknown with his magnificent sword his only friend.
Ching Shi and his prisoner make it to Wan castle only to encounter more disturbing events. Wan’s daughter, Ching-Ching, tells them of the terrible state of the castle. Rumors have reached the court the Golden Snake Man is on his way to destroy the Wan family and every one in the Wan castle is anxious and fearful. There are great internal struggles in the family of Lord Wan (Elvis Tsui) and there are even those among his own close relatives who seek to lay the blame of bad fortunes on Lord Wan’s wife Siu Yi (Elizabeth Lee). The situation grows dire as lies and deceit begin to show on all sides surrounding Ching Shi like rising water on an island.
Yuen Biao (Righting Wrongs) as Yuen Ching Shi is onscreen often considering how many actors are in the cast. His fighting is of the fantasy variety and very little of the realistic martial arts and acrobatics, this is a magical realm where characters often have supernatural abilities. Ching Shi is noble, brave, intelligent and excels in martial arts and sword fighting. But he also has a kind and gentle side (he even pets one of Ching-Ching’s birds). He takes his responsibilities as a Constable and bringing those who do wrong to justice quite seriously. But more than that, more than just doing his job, he has an innate and genuine sense of justice. He would fight for the innocent, and against those who would do harm even if it were not his job.
Danny Lee (The Killer) seems a bit out of his element in the role of the Golden Snake Man, however he has been in fantasy type movies before including Inframan and The Mighty Peking Man. Lee’s portrayal of the deeply troubled martial artist with the amazing sword is strong in places but struggles when it comes to showing normal human emotions. Nightmares from his past haunt him. His rage is barely covered and bursts forth unpredictably. He is unrelenting in his pursuit of retribution and revenge, it is always on his mind his sword ever ready to strike. Golden Snake Man is capable of other feelings but he keeps fury and and never ending thirst for requital close to his heart.
The screen version of the wuxia novel Sword Stained With Royal Blood is one of three movies and four TV series based on the heroic fantasy themed novel by Louis Cha Liang Yong, using the pen name Jin Yong. He founded his own newspaper, the Ming Pao Daily and serialized his work. Wuxia novels or wuxia xiaoshao are enormously popular in China and other Asian countries, and were discovered by western audiences greatly due to the Shaw Brothers in the 1960’s and 1970’s; and the genre is still quite popular with films such as Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. Wuxia are long, involved and with many characters. Most films are loosely based on the original story and because of length cannot include much of the novel. However, that hasn’t stopped movie makers from continuing to use wuxia as essentially plot. Wuxia stories are full of fascinating characters of all sort and prominently feature principles of honor, loyalty, love, as well as revenge, betrayal and hate.
Cheung Hoi-Ching directed produced, and co-authored the script with Wai San. While he did attempt to carry through the story his direction seems to have lost its way. The pace is uneven with a big chunk of action, then sometimes confusing exposition then more action. The editing overall rates less than average to poor. The film is obviously under-cranked in more than a few scenes, the cuts are abrupt and jerky especially when the camera is going from action to drama. Even with the flaws, and there are more than a few, Sword Stained With Royal Blood is a good view. There have been numerous films based on wuxia novels and the early 1990’s was an especially prolific period. With a huge cast of characters, plot twists, multiple sub-plots, changing schemes and allegiances and the focus heavy on heroism, honesty, and the relationship of ‘brothers,’ this wuxia film moves along quickly. Grand themes that are spoken of only briefly at times but are represented by a person, objects, places and in the larger than life sword-fights.
What makes this wuxia worth watching? While most would never give this ten stars, it has such rapid introduction of new characters with different powers, skills, and motives, there is not much time for boredom. A few of the more interesting include the Five Poison Sect, made up of women with Jade Ho (Anita Yuen) as the leader. The sect has such mastery of moving through the air, they can seem almost as if flying. As the name suggests, the women have mastered the use of potions and poisons in many forms. Master Wu is a Manchurian highly skilled with a sword and with other talents as well, help shape the story. A mysterious blind man who appears throughout the movie desperate to complete his mission. Even with all the characters and the near constant, sometimes manic, action; it is the evolving relationship between the Constable and the Golden Snake Man that establishes how strongly ethics and the relationship of ‘brothers’ is to the story. Quick paced wuxia action.
JJ Hatfield’s Rating: 6.5/10