During the Yuan Dynasty (western 14th century), the big six Chinese martial arts schools have ganged up on the Ming Cult, a highly secretive, Persian-influenced fighting school. Young hero Zhang Wuji (Li) is the orphaned son of a father from the Chinese Wudang school and a mother from a cult affiliated to the Ming Cult.
He is brought up without fighting skills but one day he falls off a cliff and encounters a master fighter who is strapped to a boulder. This guy teaches Zhang the powerful mojo of the Nine Yang Skill. Then Zhang sets off to get revenge on the people who killed his folks: basically the big six schools.
The intensely twisty plot, which also spirals around the Chinese schools’ infighting in order to take ownership of two swords, the Heaven Sword and Dragon Saber, that confer great fighting power, means that the bouts of martial arts fighting – choreographed by the great Sammo Hung – come as a relief.
It is interesting to note the range of stylistic shots deployed by popular HK director Wong Jing (God of Gamblers, Naked Killer). Indeed, the film can be seen as a halfway yardstick of the wuxia film form, from say King Hu’s 1966 Dragon Inn to Wong Kar Wai’s 2013 The Grandmaster.
It is Hong Kong in the early 1990s, so we have lots of slow motion action, zooms, flurries of extreme close up action and odd, angled shots. All of these can also be found in Wong Kar Wai’s later film, so one might ask why is he the auteur and Wong Jing the critically dismissed populist? There are also several instances of fight sequences shot from the sort of distance one usually associates with establishing shots, which may be a nod to King Hu and definitely adds some chop and change to the choppy fights.
There are lots of wires on display in the action sequences and some low-budget and clunky but lovable special effects of the variety initiated in 1983’s Zu Warriors from the Magic Mountain. This is an energetic and pretty likeable film that is definitely worth a look.