The Clan Leader

Reviewed by: sukting

May 16, 2004

Rating: three-point-five

(Yan Huang Ling)

Ye Fang - Ng Wai Kok
Ou Yang Xiong - Deng Qiaoyi
Duan Gui Fu - Tai Shan
Peng Fei - Zhu Hong Qin
Ding Lan - Cao Lan

Introduction :
This is a production done by an independent company, Video Impact Productions but since 3 of the artistes are from ATV, I place it under ATV. Nevertheless, I quite enjoyed it despite only knowing Ng Wai Kok as the lead actor. The other unknowns prove to act well too. It is a pity that I don't get to see this serial again on Singapore television.

There is a salt problem in a village. Salt is scarce as corrupt officials buy over the salt and sell them at high prices. Many poor villagers die and thus a group of sworn brothers rob the salt to help them. They call themselves the salt gang. The leader, Ouyang Xiong, is kind and understanding. The second, Duan Gui Fu, is ambitious, scheming and vicious. The third, Ye Fang, is cool and capable. The fourth, Peng Fei, is reckless. Duan and Ye are at loggerheads as Duan who eyes the throne is eager to get rid of Ye, his rival.

One day, soldiers from Official Cai charge into the village and start killing the villagers. Ding Lan and her family are in danger. Her sweetheart, Zhou hurries to inform the salt gang of the news. Ouyang and Peng are out on an assignment so Duan becomes the one in charge. He forbids Ye to save the villagers.He claims not to trust Zhou and suspects him to be a hoax.

Worried sick, Ye ignores Duan's warning but by the time he rushes to the village, all are killed except Ding Lan. She wants to join the salt gang to influence them to seek revenge. Being a physician, she believes that she can be helpful to them. However, Ye rejects her and heads for home.

He is ambushed in the hall upon arrival. Duan accuses him of betraying the gang as he refuses to obey his instructions. Despite his protests, Ye is tied up and forced to take a punishment. It is the harshest one that one can think of! He is being placed into a wooden crate and numerous long nails hammered into the cover. Blood oozes out from the nail holes amidst muffled screams of pain. Duan is satisfied when Ye's voice gets softer and softer. No one can survive after being pinned 100 nails inside the body.

At this time, Ouyang and Peng are back from the trip. Duan is shocked but says that Ye has gone out. But Ouyang's pregnant wife reveals the story. Peng rushes into the torture chamber just in time to save Ye who is about to get killed. He bandages Ye's wounds and the four men have a discussion in the hall. Peng accuses Duan for taking punishment into his own hands as he feels that Ye has done nothing wrong. The nail punishment is only meted on those who betrays the gang or gets emotionally involved with brothers' wives. Both men quarrel and have a fight. Ouyang and Ye try in vain to stop them.

Ouyang's wife is in labour but tells her maid to tell them to stop fighting. She worries too much and dies as a result. Upon knowing this, the two men stop and all rush into her room. Duan then says that he will let Ye off.

Ye gets so remorseful over her death that he faints by the side of her bed. Ouyang is very upset but he doesn't blame Ye. Upon waking up, Ye kneels with Peng at her altar to burn paper money for her and refuses to rest in his room. Peng is resolved to kill Duan but the other two men stop him. Killing Duan will cause internal conflicts as he has many followers.

Ding Lan still doesn't give up. She finally joins the gang when she manages to save the baby from the woman's body…...after a few days! This is unbelievable! She also nurses Ye back to health. However, she offends Duan (for what reason I can't remember) and in order to save her, Ouyang makes her his wife…. only in name. Ye and Zhou are shocked. Ye has loved her secretly after the moments they are together and is very heartbroken to see both going through the marriage ceremony. Zhou is upset and never stops harassing her every now and then.

Ding Lan finds Duan to be a hindrance to the whole gang and advises Ouyang to expel him. Being too kind-hearted, Ouyang is hesitant. As a result, he is killed by Duan indirectly - Duan is in cahoots with Cai and works as a spy. He tells Ouyang about the presence of salt on a hill which never exists and Ouyang is killed by the soldiers. The whole gang grieves for his death and Ding Lan vows to seek revenge.

Duan is eyeing for the clan leader post but to his dismay, the whole gang chooses Ding Lan as the next leader. Many respect her for being kind to them and also feel sorry for her being a young widow. Duan is agitated but still waits on an opportunity to pounce on her. Ye knows about this and is very cautious with Ding Lan's safety, always by her side at all times.

However, the love for her is too much for him to bear. Ding Lan isn't allowed to remarry and he is very upset over this although he sees her daily. One night, both can control their feelings no more and they spend the night together. However, Duan oversees his shadow leaving her room. He doesn't know that Ye is the one responsible but still demands to find the 'adulterer'.

The whole gang is shocked and Ding Lan has to lie that she is being raped by Zhou. She cannot reveal Ye's identity otherwise he will be nailed to death. Poor Zhou is made the scapegoat. Ding Lan and Ye are very remorseful over it upon seeing Zhou dying in front of them. Ding Lan mourns for Zhou's death in silence and vows not to let Duan off.

She finally finds out about Duan's spy identity. Ye is enraged after knowing this. He finally kills Duan after a long fight. Ye and Ding Lan still cannot be together although Duan is dead because the salt gang makes her take a vow to promise that she will forever remain loyal to their dead leader. Ye has accepted the fact and concentrate on helping her to kill Cai. Moreover, he is afraid that Ding Lan might look for another person to sacrifice for him again if their affair secret is leaked out again.

In the meantime, Peng has fallen for Cai's blind daughter Xiao Yu. Unlike her father, she is a sweet and innocent girl. Knowing that the whole gang is against her family, Peng decides to protect her at all costs. Ding Lan is no longer the kind person that all has known. She is power hungry and ruthless now. She kills Cai in the end and burns his house with Xiao Yu alive.

Peng only gets in time to see her burned corpse tied to a pole. Enraged, he kills Ding Lan and goes into retreat. Ye tries in vain to save her and ends up mourning at Ding Lan's grave after disbanding the salt gang.

Please do not expect fancy camera work, fabulous stunts or dazzling special effects. The fighting scenes are very basic. Certain scenes do stretch the imagination too far. I am baffled by the scene where a living and perfectly healthy baby is extracted from the womb of a woman for days! And how can the slat gang charge into Cai's residence at the end with ease as it is heavily guarded in the first few episodes?

Despite its imperfections, it is salvaged by the high entertainment value. It does offer some gripping and suspenseful moments. The plot is not all about salt. Packed with action and tension, it also portrays the disputes among the leaders in the Salt Gang and one woman's hunger to climb for power.

The scenes on how Duan tries to frame Ye every now and then are astonishing. However, knowing how vicious he is, Ye is witty to see through all his plots and avoid him. The rivalry between the two men brings so much tension that I practically glued myself to the set!

The most eye-opening experience is the nail punishment. When Ye is forced into the crate and nails are being hammered onto him, we can imagine how much agony he is going through just by looking at the blood oozing out and listening to his cries, without looking at his expression. Ye faints after almost 90 nails are hammered.

Peng arrives and upon seeing this, he opens the cover, with all the nails still intact! The poor man awakens due to the pain and faints again. But the most horrible sight is to see Zhou died with his eyes open upon removing the crate after the punishment.

I really applaud at the special arrangement - who has come up with such an idea? In most times, we only get to see how the prisoners are being whipped, dragged by horses or beaten by sticks and not through this process. What a refreshing change from the other methods!

Who is the best in acting - of course it's Ng Wai Kok. Plus he has quite a number of nice costumes that fit him well. He is such a pathetic loser here in career and love that you will feel so sorry for him. Duan always finds chances to suppress his chances of being the successor and he quietly accepts this arrangement for the sake of the gang.

At first, he is reserved in letting Ding Lan cure his injuries as he has never been close with a woman. All should look at his shy expression when she bandages for him! After being nursed to health, he falls for her but they have many obstacles between them. He shows his concern from her, not through any loving speech but from his gestures. There are many scenes that he portrays well.

The first will be how he sees Ouyang and her going through the marriage ceremony. Before this, he tries to talk Ouyang out of it as he knows Ouyang still pins over his dead wife. But Ouyang replies that this is the only way to save Ding Lan. Ye has to give up and gets drunk after seeing them stepping into the marriage chamber together.

There is another where Ding Lan and Ye are on a rooftop of Cai's home, hoping to gain evidence on Duan as the spy. Afraid that she might catch a cold, he puts on his cloak on her gently. Another will be that he is so upset that they can't be together that he practices his sword skills in the rain. Ding Lan shelters him with an umbrella. He can suppress his feelings no more that he hugs her and cries in the rain. What comes after that, it's the intimate bed scene after he carries her to her room.

Upon knowing that Duan is the killer, Ye turns from the mild mannered person to a reckless man like Peng. Although he knows that Duan has mastered the iron shield and he is no match for him, he still initiates the duel. However, he still looks for a chance to kill him calmly although he is badly beaten up during the duel.

Ye gets alarmed upon seeing how Ding Lan has changed after Zhou's death and tries in vain to change her. He is in a dilemma when Peng has wanted his assistance to kill her after Xiao Yu's death. The last scene of him standing near her grave shows his grief well too.

As for Cao Lan, her acting is good too. Her transformation of Ding Lan is so great that you will begin to doubt your eyesight whether you are looking at the same person from the start to the end. Pretty and of comparable height, she pairs well with Ng in acting and in looks. Too bad her dressing is too ordinary which doesn't bring out her beauty.

Normally I will complain that period dramas are too slow moving. But it is not the same for this one as it has only 6 episodes. This is the shortest serial that I have ever watched so far! If given the chance, I will not hesitate to buy the VCDs(if there's any). It is highly entertaining because of its special storyline. I am also surprised that this independent video company can also portrays loving scenes well. TVB and ATV should learn it - be direct and straight to the point! Don't miss it if you get to watch it.

Sukting's Ratings:
On acting:* * * (Scale of 5)
On the story: * * * 1/2 (Scale of 5)

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