Sword Stained With Royal Blood (HK 1993)

Rating: ***
Review Date: 7/26/20
Cast: Yuen Biao, Danny Lee, Cheung Man, Anita Yuen, Yeh Chuan-Chen, Tsui Kam Long, Elizabeth Lee, Baohua Shi, Ng Man Tat, cameos by Wu Ma, Fong Lung, Melvin Wong

"Responsible men are idiots only."

This wuxia swordplay fantasy is a convoluted mess of nonsense, but the action and cinematography are so wonderful that you don't really care. Golden Snake Man (Danny Lee) is seeking revenge against Lord Wan (Tsui Kam Long), who stole his wife (Elizabeth Lee) ten years ago. He possesses a great weapon (the golden snake sword) that everyone wants to get their hands on, which is a major source of tension and devious behavior between the various clans in the World Of Martial Arts. Princess Kau (Cheung Man) is arrested by Constable Yuen (Yuen Biao) for trying to steal some snowy frogs for her kung fu master (Ng Man Tat), while Jade Ho of the Five Poison Sect (Anita Yuen) tries to kills them both. Her attempts to poison Yuen backfire, so she decides to fall in love with him and drink his blood instead. Okay... Meanwhile, Golden Snake Man pines for his ex-wife while totally misunderstanding her feelings for him. He befriends Yuen for his sense of justice and righteousness, which tests their brotherly bond when they end up on opposite sides of the law. After much manipulation, betrayal, bloodshed, and death, Yuen and Lord Wan battle each other with the golden snake sword and the titular sword stained with royal blood. Infuriatingly, the last ninety seconds of the DVD were corrupted, so I don't know how it ends!

While the story is nearly impossible to follow, the all-star cast is delightful and the film looks fantastic. The cinematography is gorgeous and in line with the rich Hong Kong style that was popular at the time. The locations are also fantastic, including a sprawling fight in a cavern that definitely doesn't look like a movie set. However, I'm also at odds with treating fragile natural locations so destructively. The bombastic action is highly kinetic and fun to watch, the kung fu is fast and furious, and the wire stunts are impressive. Seeing Ho's chariot gently soar through the forest is simply sublime. While Yuen Biao is a spectacular martial artist and stunt man, he lacks the charisma to carry the film as its lead, but this ends up being okay because there are so many other characters to pick up the slack. The playfully mischievous Cheung Man is stunning as always and Yeh Chuan-Chen is impossibly alluring as Yuen's sister Ching-Ching. The costuming is fabulous and even the normally plain-looking Anita Yuen looks fantastic. Unlike similar films of the period, the goofy and offensive humor is considerably toned down and mostly relegated to Ng Man Tat and Cheung Man. Baohua Shi gives an impressive performance as a Mongol general who has a knife hidden in his rib cage for special occasions. His cunning and ferocity are reminiscent of Donnie Yen's character in "Dragon Inn" (1992). While it's not the best film the genre has to offer, it's certainly a feast for the eyes and a good reminder of why I love 90's Hong Kong cinema so much.