The early 90's saw a glut of fantasy action, wire choreography, romantic/tragic, ensemble Hong Kong films, many of them adapted from popular period set novels. The list includes Flying Daggers, Deadful Melody, Swordsman, Sword of Many Loves, Kung Fu Colt Master, Comet Butterfly and Sword, Blade of Fury and Sword Stained with Royal Blood (1993) which was adapted from a novel by Jin Yong and previously translated into film by veteran director Chang Cheh in 1981. This time out, director Cheung Hoi Jing, whose previous (and only other credit to my knowledge) film was the 1991 fantasy/comedy Devils Vendetta, has the task of plunging into the simple yet oddly convoluted story surrounded by a large cast of characters and notable HK actors vying for screen time.
The story is too detailed for its own good, and translating a somewhat daunting novel into a light action film doesn't exactly go well. Basically, here is the story... The Ming Dynasty.
Ten years prior, Ha Suet Yee (a chubby Danny Lee- The Killer, City on Fire, Dr Lamb) finds his families empire overrun by the evil Lord Wan (Elvis Tsui Kam-Kong- Seventh Curse, All Men are Brothers and probably a thousand other films), so he leaves and studies martial arts, gets the magic Golden Snake Sword, and becomes an outlaw named The Golden Snake Man. While he is gone, his love Siu-yi (Lee Mei-fung) is married to Lord Wan, and he becomes a hunted figure by both Wans men and the evil cult called Fire Poison Sect, both of which want to destroy him and get their hands on his sword.... Enter into this picture the noble Constable Yuen Shing Chi (Yuen Biao- Dragons Forever, Peacock King, On the Run), who runs across Golden Snake Man while pursuing and arresting a mischievous runaway princess. The two strike up a bond, and Constable Yuen makes his way to the Wan castle with the bratty princess in tow. While at the Wan compound, Constable Yuen drinks the blood of a snake that the Poison Sect leader, Jade Ho (Anita Yuen Wing Lee) was going to use to make herself powerful enough to defeat Golden Snake Man. Now, Jade Ho and her sect follow Constable Yuen waiting to drain him of his powerful blood... Eventually all things converge with reuniting of old flames and the evil forces squaring off with both Golden Snake Man and Constable Yuen in plenty of high-flying martial arts swordplay, fantasy fx action.
This is a case of an annoyingly soap opera melodrama plot being saved by a few good action scenes, particularly a great finale that ranks among the wire fu (Swordsman 2, Bride With White Hair) genres best. On one hand you have a large cast of peripheral characters, basically all fairly cardboard in design, floating around the main characters of Yuen Biao, Danny Lee, and Lee Mei-fung saddled with a fairly boring plot of lost loves, revenge, and magical snakes blood. Luckily there is enough burrowing swordsman, and flying, leaping, spinning, imaginative wire fu fight choreography at the beginning and end of the film to make it a worthwhile piece of entertainment. As soon as your head starts to ache from keeping up with just exactly 'who is who and why are they essential to the story?', suddenly a fight will break out and someone will say "Soul Calling Stance!" or "Cyclone Strike" and fly through the air, shooting mystical rays, or having telepathic command over ten swords darting through the air. It isn't all seriousness and swordplay, there is quite a bit of comedic goofiness, most of it coming from the princess and Constable Yuen's teacher. Honestly, it is an element that further hinders the film, making it too broad. If its epic tone and mishmash of styles had been whittled down into either a somber classic swordplay revenge film, an outright fantasy wuxia action film, or just a comedic melodrama, it would have been far better. But, in typical HK fashion, one genre isn't enough, so they mix three genres in a nearly incoherent script that is saved by good action directing and the novelty of its all star HK cast.
The DVD: World Video. Those familiar with World Video product know what to expect, the same old fair transfer with authoring that includes a huge layer change pause and stutter break between chapters.
Picture- Widescreen, but it is cropped/the wrong ratio, appears to be around 1:71:1 (instead of a true 1:85:1 ratio) or so; its a rough matte that I figure is just a port of the old World Video laserdisc. While the action is centered, the improper ratio crops the burned in subtitles, cutting off entire words at the begin and end of long speeches making the dialogue difficult to follow. Other than that is is your average lackluster but acceptable HK transfer, some softness grain and a few minor artifacts, but overall pretty clear with decent color and okay contrast.
Sound- Cantonese or Mandarin Dolby Digital 2.0 mono with burned in white English subtitles, as I said, often cut off with some sub flubs. Audio tracks free of any glaring hiss or distortions, but is basically centered and lacking any real dynamics.
Extras- 8 Chapters--- Trailers for the film plus A Kid From Tibet and South Shaolin Master Part Two--- Weblink
Conclusion: Well, this is a pretty poor transfer. I don't think its out of line to ask for at the very least legible subtitles. Considering there are better/proper ratio/legible subtitle/cheaper priced versions out there that HK film fans can import, like the Thakral/China Star edition... this World Video release gets a 'Skip it'.