Adapted from the first Chu Liuxiang story, Clans of Intrigue (楚留香) is a wonderful summary of Taiwanese Wuxia author Gu Long’s storytelling style.
Clans of Intrigue (楚留香) Synopsis
“Thief Master” Chu Liuxiang is unceremoniously accused of murdering three leading pugilistic sect leaders with the deadly Heavenly Water. Unruffled, Chu takes it upon himself to investigate the matter, and soon discovers that all three murders are linked to a mysterious beauty. After he is savagely attacked by a katana-wielding assassin, he also determines that the mastermind behind everything is one of his closest associates.
Wuxia story lovers would know this. Among his many protagonists, Taiwanese Wuxia author Gu Long is most remembered for Chu Liuxiang, the “fragrant” marshall of thieves.
Suave, quick-witted, and capable of near god-like agility, the character was most famously portrayed on late 70s television by Adam Cheng. Before and after Cheng’s portrayal, there were several other notable cinematic and television adaptations too. As far as the big screen is concerned, I dare say Shaw Brothers’ movie trilogy from 1977 to 1982 is the most memorable.
Clans of Intrigue itself is the first of this trilogy, and the plot is mostly based on the first story arc of the Chu Liuxiang novels. On the acting, Ti Lung positively shines throughout as the thief marshall, exuding just the right amount of charisma and wittiness in the many dialogue sequences. Needless to say, he excelled in all combat scenes too, which is no surprise given his status as Shaw’s leading kung fu star of then.
With this being a Shaw Brothers flick, said combat sequences are expectedly well-choreographed too. While no confrontation is particularly memorable, what’s delivered was always fast and clear-cut. And towards the end, quite gory and out-of-the-world too.
Coming to the adapted story, I highlight that I’m rather surprised by how faithful the movie is to Gu Long’s writing style. This being how the whole adventure is one extended detective investigation, with twists relentless in the way they piled on.* And with a distinctive Western lone cowboy flavour.
For some viewers, the story twists could come across as contrived if not absurd. One climactic one, written just for this movie, is particularly nonsensical.
But, this was the way Gu Long wrote. To the credit of director Chor Yuen and screenwriter Ni Kuang, the latter himself a Wuxia writer, what’s retained in the plot arguably still strings together.
On another note, the final segment in this flick isn’t from the first story arc of the novels, it’s from the third. The frighteningly powerful Yin Ji also fought Chu Liuxiang very differently in the novels. (They fought underwater)
About that, I’m disappointed that the memorable underwater confrontation was entirely rewritten. I am at the same time, also stunned by Shaw’s decision to retain one of Yin Ji’s defining “characteristics.” I.E. the fact that she’s lesbian.
Was 70s Hong Kong cinema so progressive? Or was it intended as an exemplification of Yin Ji’s twisted personality, which incidentally was how it was put across in the novels?
I suspect it’s more of the latter. With all the blood and sexual revelations in the final minutes, I’m sure an exploitative element was intended as well.
* To elaborate, many Gu Long stories, including his most popular ones, contain inexplicable developments. When adapted for the big screen or television, his stories are thus usually significantly rewritten.
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