Heaven Sword and Dragon Sabre [倚天屠龍記] (1978)

Starring Derek Yee, Candice Yu On-On, Ching Li, Karen Chan Ga-Yee, Cheng Lai-Fong, Candy Wen Xue-Er, Cheung Ying, Wang Lai, Helen Poon Bing-Seung, Wang Yong, Norman Tsui Siu-Keung, Ching Miao, Lo Lieh, Yang Chi-Ching, Chiang Nan, Keung Hon, Lam Fai-Wong, Yuen Wah, Ng Man-Tat, Cheung Wai-Yee, Stephen Yip Tin-Hang, Ng Hong-Sang, Lau Wai-Ling, Ai Fei, Tang Tak-Cheung, Teresa Ha Ping, Tin Ching, Chan Shen, Dick Wei, Ku Kuan-Chung, Hung Ling-Ling

Directed by Chor Yuen

Expectations: Incredibly high.

On the general scale:

On the Dense Wuxia Scale™:

I loved every second of Chor Yuen’s Heaven Sword and Dragon Sabre. It’s hard to be objective; I’ve been inordinately fascinated by Jin Yong’s Condor Heroes trilogy for years, and each film adaptation I see unlocks more pieces of the elaborate puzzle. Wong Jing’s Kung Fu Cult Master is one of my most treasured Hong Kong films, a love that grew from total, whirlwind confusion when I first saw it on a blurry bootleg in the late ’90s. Chor’s film is, of course, based on the same material, so the prospect of a Shaw Brothers’ Kung Fu Cult Master has always excited my imagination. It lived up to everything I hoped it would be, but conversely I can’t imagine remotely understanding the film without prior knowledge. It’s so densely packed that I imagine lots of Shaw fans don’t like this one, but again, I loved every second.

Heaven Sword and Dragon Sabre is named after two legendary swords positioned to re-shape the martial world. The swords were forged from the Heavy Iron Sword of Yang Guo, the hero of The Return of the Condor Heroes, and son of Yang Kang, antagonist of The Legend of the Condor Heroes. During the swords’ creation, Guo Jing and Huang Rong (protagonists of The Legend of the Condor Heroes) hid the Book of Wumu (which the villains hunt for in The Brave Archer 2) in the Dragon Sabre, and the Nine Yin Manual (subject of The Brave Archer) & other techniques in the Heaven Sword. None of this is particularly necessary to the plot of Chor’s film, but I find that understanding the details, and connecting them to your knowledge from other films, allows for an appreciation of the adaptation that would otherwise be lost.

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