Heaven Sword and Dragon Sabre 2 [倚天屠龍記大結局] (1978)
AKA Heaven Sword and Dragon Sabre, Part II

Starring Derek Yee, Candice Yu On-On, Ching Li, Karen Chan Ga-Yee, Cheng Lai-Fong, Candy Wen Xue-Er, Lo Lieh, Ku Kuan-Chung, Ai Fei, Yue Wing, Chung Gwok-Yan, Tin Ching, Teresa Ha Ping, Wai Wang, Wang Lai, Helen Poon Bing-Seung, Wang Yong, Woo Wang-Daat, Chan Shen, Norman Tsui Siu-Keung, Ching Miao, Yang Chi-Ching, Chiang Nan, Keung Hon

Directed by Chor Yuen

Expectations: High.

Whether you enjoy Heaven Sword and Dragon Sabre or not, this sequel presents more of the same. If you’re a fan, it’s a worthy continuation and conclusion of the story, while non-fans will most likely still be lost by the end of it all. Heaven Sword and Dragon Sabre 2 is more straightforward than the first film, but it’s straightforward in the densest, most wuxia way you can imagine. I’m finding it hard to write about, because everything I wrote for the first film could just carry over. They’re really just one long serial movie, although I couldn’t imagine sitting through them both in one go. Even for a Jin Yong super fan, the density of the material may fry more synapses than any one fan can afford to lose.

We left off when Priest Chang San Fang (Cheung Ying), the leader of Wu-Tang, was struck by the poisonous King Kong Palm from a Yuan mercenary posing as a Shaolin monk. Wu Ji (Derek Yee) must once again retrieve an antidote from Chiu Ming (Ching Li) at the Green Willow Mansion. In exchange for it, Wu Ji agrees to perform three tasks for Chiu Ming, to be named as needed. She sends him on his way, as she already sent the antidote for San Fang before he even arrived! When he rejoins his Ming brethren, he learns there is yet another problem in the martial world requiring his attention. On the way home from their battle at Bright Peak (the Ming Cult headquarters), the six clans were poisoned at a tavern by Chiu Ming’s brother, Fufu Temuyi (Yue Wing)! He then imprisoned the poisoned clans in the Man Fat Temple of the Yuan capital, Khanbaliq (now Beijing). Turns out Chiu Ming is the daughter of Yuan General Chaghan Temur, and the dissent amongst the clans was a calculated effort to divide and conquer the martial clans! Oh no!

As I mentioned in the previous film’s review, I love Kung Fu Cult Master, and that film ends at a roughly similar place as Heaven Sword and Dragon Sabre. I’ve wondered how this story ends for 25 years. To finally see it play out, I was honestly a little underwhelmed. The first films are wonderful examples of the high Chinese fantasy that I adore, and this sequel felt much more grounded than I was expecting. I’m sure I will grow to love this second half of the story, but at this point I’m left wishing for another wild martial technique for Wu Ji to learn, or something as cool as the hidden oasis.

While I’m talking about disappointments, I might as well mention the obvious: these movies are just too dense to be “traditionally good.” I loved them both, but they are a real challenge to parse out. The greatest movies communicate effortlessly, and Chor Yuen’s Heaven Sword and Dragon Sabre films require a lot of research and/or prior knowledge to truly work as intended. It’s common to say your mileage may vary when discussing opinions, but these films are the epitome of the sentiment. The ending is surprisingly patient and emotional for a film so quickly paced, and it gives me pause to consider how a three-film series might have allowed the material room for more lingering emotions and audience connection to characters. I have reservations that even three films might not be enough, and that’s probably why there’s been so many TV adaptations over the years. I look forward to seeing how Wong Jing approaches the story in his New Kung Fu Cult Master two-film series.

As expected, the action by by Tang Chia and Huang Pei-Chih is largely similar to the first film. It’s entertaining in the moment, but the best choreography is generally reserved for when the camera is in “stuntman mode,” AKA wide shots where we’re unable to see that the main actors aren’t the performers. The final fight at Shaolin changes this up, with lots of great choreography in medium shots. This is the closest the films get to traditional action, and it’s a great cap to the two-film series. The main point to remember is that Chor Yuen doesn’t really make action movies. The action is more of a language spoken between characters, revealing secrets to the fighters (and by proxy the audience) and driving the narrative in new directions. They entertain, but more as bridging sections than the intense fights to the death that the larger martial arts genre is known for.

Ultimately, I loved Heaven Sword and Dragon Sabre 2, but not quite as much as the first entry. Hopefully with a planned English translation of Jin Yong’s original novel hitting shelves at some point in the future, Chor Yuen’s films can be reevaluated and appreciated for the dense treats they are.

Next up in this chronological journey through the Shaw Brothers Martial Arts catalog is… another Chor Yuen movie! Did this guy ever sleep? Released just 11 days after Heaven Sword and Dragon Sabre 2, it’s the Gu Long adaptation Swordsman and Enchantress! See ya then (hopefully soon)!