10 July 2010 | BrianDanaCamp
Another Louis Cha swordplay epic adapted by Shaw Bros.
THE SWORD STAINED WITH ROYAL BLOOD (1981) is a convoluted tale of the martial world adapted by screenwriter Ni Kuang from a novel by Louis Cha (Jin Yong) that has been adapted for film and TV both before and since. There was a film version called SWIFT SWORD (1980) done a year earlier, also at Shaw Bros.; a TV series done in 1985; and a wire-fu version starring Yuen Biao made in 1993. It's evident from this film that a lot of plot has been condensed and packed into 104 minutes. Things move fast and there's an awful lot of detail to take in, much of it complicated by frequent flashbacks. It has less action and more talk than usual. Until the big fight finale, most of the fights tend to be short bouts, either friendly ones or tests of opponents' skills.
The plot has to do with a young martial artist, Yuan (Kuo Chui), the son of a slain Ming general, who has trained in isolation for 18 years and gets hold of a treasure map and rare kung fu manual left in a cave by the now-dead Golden Snake. Yuan then follows the instructions left with the map and visits the Wen family in search of a woman named Wen Yi. He is befriended by Wen Qing, another young martial artist, and becomes "sworn brothers" with him, little knowing that Qing is really Wen Yi's daughter who eventually reveals herself as a beautiful teenage girl. There is a matter of stolen gold that pits members of Yuan's own school, the Hua Shan school, against the Wen family. Yuan is in the awkward position of having to mediate between warring factions, but manages to do so quite skillfully. When he shows off the techniques he learned from the manual found with the treasure map, he arouses the Wen patriarch's suspicions. Those techniques were the sole province of Golden Snake, Wen Yi's lover, and the father of Wen Qing.
Most of the action in the last hour takes place in the Wen villa where the parlor is spacious enough to accommodate numerous intricate martial arts battles including the finale where Yuan goes up against the 5 Elements Array. This particular fight is quite spectacular and gives star Kuo Chui the opportunity to show off his considerable fighting and acrobatic skills. Two of his fellow Venoms (from THE FIVE VENOMS, 1978), Chiang Sheng and Lu Feng, are on hand among his many opponents. Honorary "Sixth" Venom Wang Li plays the Wen patriarch.
The lead actress is the spunky young Candy Wen Hsueh Erh, whom I've also seen in SWORDSMAN AND ENCHANTRESS, THE BRAVE ARCHER AND HIS MATE, ODE TO GALLANTRY, and HOLY FLAME OF THE MARTIAL WORLD. She's cute and petite, but can play spoiled, headstrong, and impetuous very well. She's not a martial artist and her fight scenes are staged to cover up this fact, but she's quite appealing nonetheless. Longtime Shaw Bros. leading lady Ching Li has a smaller role as Wen Yi, Qing's mother, but it's an important one in the film as she maintains her love and devotion to Golden Snake (Lung Tien-Hsiang), who is seen in flashbacks to their tender romance, a relationship distorted by her family into a "rape."
But the real heart of this film is Kuo Chui as Yuan Cheng Chih, in one of the few films in which he plays the central heroic role (see also ODE TO GALLANTRY, 1982). He's a charismatic screen presence and superb martial artist and acrobat, but he also fleshes out the role of a man who seeks to use his powers for good and avoid bloodshed or killing. During one encounter, he's appalled when Wen Qing, still in male garb, kills an opponent unnecessarily. He always prefers to negotiate rather than fight. More than anything else, he's the reason to see this film. Wong Yue played the role in the earlier film, SWIFT SWORD, also reviewed on this site, and was quite good, but he doesn't dominate the film as Kuo Chui does here.