Starring Samuel Hui, Celica Tip, Cheung Man, Jacky Cheung, with cameos by Lam Ching Ying, Wu Ma, Yuen Wah.
To rate this movie as groundbreaking is not an overstatement (despite the fact that I really don't like this movie). This, along with "Once Upon A Time In China", was to be the pioneer of the 90s wuxia/wire/flying extravagenzas that followed. And what's even more admirable: to think that King Hu, who had the height of his career in the late 60s, actually is responsible for this movie--or all the martial arts films of the 90s, since this one started it all--is just beyond impressive. Only King Hu could have come out with yet another pioneer 20+ years after "Dragon Inn" and "A Touch of Zen", which are two of the biggest classic films in the martial arts genre. He is truly one of martial arts' biggest influences. And although I don't like King Hu, his movies, and especially this movie, I have to give credit to him and this movie in particular. Groundbreaking they are.
I have not read Jing Yong's original novel, Smiling Proud Wanderer, to the story, nor have I watched any of the TV adaptions (which have much more room for length details), but I imagine most people would be familiar with the plot by now, so I will not go into details.
The eunuch finds out that the Sacred Volume has been hidden under his posession, and everyone is after it. Ling Hu Chong and his sister from the Hua Shan Sect, following their master's order, delivers a letter to a veteran fighter who soon gets killed by the Eunuch's man. Jacky Cheung plays a serviceman for the Eunuch. Eventually, the Sun Moon Sect gets into the story, and the leader (Cheung Man) falls for Ling Hu Chong. Ling's master is in fact an evil-hearted person who betrays the sect for the Sacred Volumes. But in the end, it is Jacky Cheung's character who obtains it. After defeating his evil master, Ling jumps on the horse with his ladies, retiring from the martial world.
To begin with, this movie fell short of my expectations. The first time I saw a couple of spots here and there on the VCD and it looked like pure terror. Well, it didn't improve /that/ much this time. The story is extremely confusing, even though it's not as badly presented as in "Butterfly Sword." The cast is pretty deplorable. It seems that everyone is the wrong choice for his role except for Jacky Cheung. There's a lot of characters too, which makes the story even harder to follow. Great cameos by Lam Ching Ying and Wu Ma, which in my opinion is the best reason to watch this movie. The music is atrociously bad, and that's why I say the movie is like an experiment -- you have some great elements, but they're not put together well. The way they sang the music is as malapropos to the movie as can be. The tune is great, but whoever sang the lyrics was atrociously horrible. Furthermore, the action is one of a kind. It is definitely NOT good, but I don't know how to classify it. There is maybe one shot of decent swordplay; the rest of the so-called "action" consists of 90% slow motion and all depend on wire tricks. Indeed, I saw some of the most bizarre and slow swordplay. I usually don't complain about a movie not having enough action, but I truly loathe the lack of action in this movie. Again, I attribute it to the movie's experimental spirit.
The story is about a bunch of people of different backgrounds all striving for the Sacred Volume. Jacky Cheung is outstanding as the villain. It seems that he is in nearly every Hong Kong classic since the mid 80s! Samuel Hui's performance is exhaustingly ungood, and without Dong Fang Bu Bai, the plot just isn't very interesting. Much inferior to "Swordsman II" with Brigitte Lin and Jet Li, where experiment leveled into maximum fierceness. Skip part 1 and go right to "Swordsman II".