RaEL Film Guide

Story Of The Sword And The Sabre
Parts 1 and 2

(Dirs: Zhang Ying, Cai Chang (1963) / Pearl City / 4VCDs)


Hongkong's Pearl City's follow-up to their superb 10-VCD Buddha's Palm box set is the '60s classic, the two-part Story Of The Sword And The Sabre (better known as Heaven Sword And Dragon Sabre). Wuxia fans would know that this Jin Yong story has been made into several TV series and at least three features - the current title under review, Kung Fu Cult Master with Jet Li and a version from Shaw Brothers in the '70s.

But the black-and-white 1963 version is not without merit and worth a look, if nothing else, at least for nostalgic reasons.

As the fifth disciple of the Wu-Tang clan, Cheung Ying and fellow disciple See-ma Wah Loong are given the task of locating the Dragon Sabre when it is reported missing in the wuxia world. (As usual, whoever owns the Dragon Sabre will rule the wuxia world, but more importantly, the sabre contains a powerful secret.) Meanwhile, Pak Yin, of the White Eagle clan, is also searching for the missing sabre. She befriends Cheung Ying and while separated from him, badly wounds Third Disciple. From then on, it's one misunderstanding being compounded by another and, by the end, everyone is out for each other's blood. In a bit of respite (spanning 10 years in the story), the couple is "kidnapped" by Golden-hair Lion (Shek Kin), who not only plays matchmaker to the couple on a deserted island, but imparts to the couple's son his kung-fu skills.

The presence of Cheung Ying (as the lead and co-director) and Pak Yin is already an indication of the mood of the movie and it is no surprise that the film's melodrama is milked to the fullest, leading to an ending with the couple's son (Mo Kei, played by a very young- looking Chan Bo Chu) vowing bloody vengeance. After all, both the leads made their reputation playing star-crossed lovers in numerous tearjerkers.

Here, Cheung finds himself caught in a bind. He is torn between caring for his wounded fellow disciple and the love of his life; or caring for his son in spite of the fact that it was his wife who inadvertently created so much misery. He is also caught between honour (here, seen as a symbolic gesture that is eventually quite empty) and sacrifice (which is, again, quite pointless). Cheung is not necessarily the most expressive of heroes or actors - some might even call him woodenly stoic - and he carries himself like someone with a pebble underneath his foot. His grimace alone is probably worth a thousand words.

Pak Yin, on the other hand, comes across a little better - she loves Cheung for his noble qualities but knows that deep down, she is living a lie and will one day have to pay the price. She is scheming to the extent that she wants to keep whatever happiness she can find and for as long as possible and the quick and bloody climax, though not totally unexpected, does seem rushed - not so much because of the exegesis of the story but because the filmmakers probably ran out of time!

Compared to Buddha's Palm, the action sequences here are better choreographed. Even if it is speeded up on film, there is still a fluidity and elegance here that is missing in the other show. A highlight is when Pak Yin single-handedly takes down an entire armed escort service - that this sequence is repeated in Part Two as a flashback only indicates its vibrancy.

Unlike Buddha's Palm, there are no Chinese subtitles. The print is fine but not excellent; and the image isn't as sharp as it can be. The colours seem slightly muted - the blacks aren't that solid. The sound is passable. - Stephen Tan

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