Heavenly Sword and Dragon Sabre

Reviewed by: Andrew Leung

March 09, 2008

Rating: three-point-five

Cast: Steve Ma King To, Kathy Chow Hoi Mei, Cecilia Yip Tung, Suen Hing
Length: 50 Episodes
Time Period: Late Yuan Dynasty, circa AD 1330-1350
Background: 3nd Book (final) of the Condor Trilogy written by Louis Cha (pen name - Jin Yong)

Warning! Spoilers included!

The Condor Trilogy encapsulates the rise and fall of the Mongolian control in China. The Mongolians have set up a dynasty in China called the Yuan dynasty. HSDS takes place late in this dynasty (right before the Ming dynasty). The symbol of power and dominance in this period are two weapons: the Heavenly Sword and the Dragon Sabre. Kwok Jing and Wong Yong (heroes from the first book "Legend of Condor Heroes") forged these weapons from the huge sword of Yang Guo (hero from the second book "Legend of Condor Lovers"). It has been said that whoever gets these two swords will be the most powerful and rule the martial arts world. Kwok Jing put the "Hung Lung 18 Palms" and "9 Yin" kung-fu manuals within the Heavenly Sword. The "9 Yin" is the most powerful kung-fu technique in the Condor Trilogy universe. He also put the "Mo Muk Wai Shu" which is General Ngok Faye's war tactics manual inside the Dragon Sabre. With the war tactics manual, the Dragon Sabre is the symbol of the Han chinese rebellion against the Mongolian government.

This review will be divided into the following categories: Story, Casting/Characters, Scenery/Cinematography, Costume/Props, Music, Fighting, and Ending.

1. Story
The first 15 episodes is dedicated to Cheung Tsui San (Cheung Mo Gei's father). The rest of the episodes are geared towards Cheung Mo Gei. The 2-hour movie based on this series/novel is called Kung-Fu Colt Master starring Jet Li. Episodes 15-23 are the events covered in this movie.

There are two main themes in this movie: 1) prejudice/racism and 2) political corruption.

Since the story is long, this review will only give a brief summary emphasizing on the two main themes mentioned above.

In the first 15 episodes, Wu-Tang member Cheung Tsui San falls in love with Yen So So who is from the Ming sect which is regarded as the "evil" sect. The "good" sects such as Ngor Mei, Shaolin and Wu-Tang have always been fighting against the Ming sect. However of all the "good" schools, Ngor Mei (female taoists) is the most prejudiced against the Ming sect. The leader of Ngor Mei is the evil Tit Jur who is full of prejudice against the Ming sect. Because of this, Cheung Tsui San and Yen So So face many hardships from both the "good" and "evil" sects.

Circumstances will allow this couple to become stranded on an isolated island (far away from mainland China) and befriend the Golden-Haired Lion King (also a member of Ming sect). It is only on this island that Cheung Tsui San and Yen So So find peace and don't have to worry about prejudice from the outside world. The Golden-Haired Lion King (also on the isolated island) has stolen the Dragon Sabre and has vowed to find the secrets of this weapon to gain tremendous martial arts power. Unfortunately, he does not know the secret that you must have BOTH the Heavenly Sword and Dragon Sabre to gain the martial art scrolls. The only person who knows this fact is Tit Jur (the evil leader of Ngor Mei sect). Tit Jur possesses the Heavenly Sword and is desperately trying to find the whereabouts of the Lion King to get the Dragon Sabre to complete the collection. Eventually, a baby is born on the isolated island from Cheung Tsui San and Yen So So. This baby is named Cheung Mo Gei and is the main character of the series.

# By episode 23, Cheung Mo Gei would have become the most powerful man in the martial arts world (comparable to Five Greats from the "Legend of Condor Lovers"). He becomes the leader of Ming sect (previously regarded as the "evil" sect) and learns two powerful kung fu techniques: "9 Yang Gen Jing" which gives him great healing powers (and defence) and allows him to learn all other kung fu techniques very quickly
# "Keen Kwun Da Loi Yee" which is a kung fu reserved for the leader of Ming sect. Its purpose is to reflect inner-energy projectiles from enemies.

Through Cheung Mo Gei, the Ming sect is finally regarded as "good" and is respected by all schools of martial arts (except for Ngor Mei). It also becomes the most powerful martial art school and the prime vehicle for the rebellion against the Mongolians.

Eventually, Cheung Mo Gei will meet Chow Che Yiuk (Kathy Chow). Chow Che Yiuk is a member of the Ngor Mei sect (and later becomes the leader of it) and is in love with Cheung Mo Gei. Unfortunately for her, Cheung Mo Gei falls for another girl. This other girl's name is Chiu Mun (Yip Tung). Because of Chiu Mun and the prejudiced teachings of her "Ngor Mei sifu" Tit Jur, Chow Che Yiuk slowly becomes filled with hatred and becomes evil like her master.

Chiu Mun (Cheung Mo Gei's lover) is the daughter of a Mongolian general. Like the ill-fated love between Cheung Tsui San (Cheung Mo Gei's father) and Yen So So, Cheung Mo Gei and Chiu Mun also face much prejudice and racist obstacles since the Han Chinese and Mongolians are enemies. Yen So So was regarded as "evil" because she belonged to the Ming sect. Likewise, Chiu Mun is also regarded as "evil" because she is Mongolian. Chiu Mun constantly faces racism from Cheung Mo Gei's friends and from members of the Ming sect (of which Cheung Mo Gei is the leader). But the love between Cheung Mo Gei and Chiu Mun is strong and they overcome all the obstacles. Cheung Mo Gei even gives up his leader position of Ming sect for her. When the Yuan dynasty was overthrown, he could have become the emperor of the Ming dynasty. But all that matters to him is to be with his love Chiu Mun.

Fueled by the corrupted prejudice teachings of her sifu Tit Jur (remember Ngor Mei is the most prejudice against the Ming sect) and the hatred for Cheung Mo Gei (she hated him because he chose Chiu Mun over her), Chow Che Yiuk vows to destroy Cheung Mo Gei. Circumstances allow her to get BOTH the Heavenly Sword and Dragon Sabre. With both weapons, she manages to get the "9 Yin" kung fu manual. "9 Yin" is the most powerful kung-fu technique in the world. Unfortunately for her, she is too impatient and only learns 1-year worth of "9 Yin" kung-fu when she wishes to challenge Cheung Mo Gei. Even though Cheung Mo Gei has 5-years worth of training with the KKDLY and "9 Yang", Chow Che Yiuk is still a formidable foe for him. Eventually, she also challenges Cheung 3 Fong (leader of Wu-Tang sect). Cheung 3 Fong manages to reveal the "good and innocent" nature of Chow Che Yiuk of which her sifu Tit Jur tried to destroy. In the end, Cheung 3 Fong successfully erases all the hatred and prejudice from Chow Che Yiuk. This is a fitting ending since the real reason why she turned "evil" is because of the corrupted teachings of her sifu Tit Jur. Before Chow Che Yiuk entered Ngor Mei, she was actually full of compassion. In the end, Chow Che Yiuk becomes regretful for all the evil deeds she has done due to hatred and prejudice. This is important because the theme of this series is prejudiced behavior. Chow Che Yiuk represents the transformation from "evil" due to prejudice and hatred back to "good".

Another theme the series touched upon was that of political corruption. Cheung Mo Gei eventually found out that absolute power corrupts absolutely. To be successful politically, one must commit immoral acts. Chu Yuen Ching (high-ranking general of the Ming sect) had the characteristics of a politician. He looks at the "ends" rather than the "means". Whereas Cheung Mo Gei is too moral and compassionate to commit immoral acts even if those acts served a higher (and "better") purpose. Because of this, Cheung Mo Gei gives up his position as the leader of Ming sect and allows Chu Yuen Ching to become the leader. When the Ming sect eventually overthrew the Yuan government, Chu Yuen Ching becomes the emperor (historically true) and sets up the Ming dynasty. The question is whether all his immoral acts were justified.

2. Casting/Characters
Kathy Chow did an excellent job as Chow Che Yiuk. She portrayed both the "innocent" and "evil" versions of Chow Che Yiuk perfectly. I personally think she is the best Chow Che Yiuk ever.

Steve Ma on the other hand wasn't as good. I thought his portray of Cheung Mo Gei was too exaggerated. He played the part with too much emotion. Plus I think he's too old to play Cheung Mo Gei. Playing Cheung Tsui San is okay but getting a younger actor to play Cheung Mo Gei would have been better.

Yip Tung was great as both Yen So So and Chiu Mun. She captured the playful essence of Chiu Mun. And her love (acting) for Cheung Mo Gei was very believable. Suen Hing also portrays Yang Siu (a Ming general) well. In interesting note is that Suen Hing has been in 3 Taiwanese Jin Yong series based on the Sung-Yuan-Ming dynasty: Legend of Condor Lovers (as Kwok Jing), Heaven Sword and Dragon Sabre (as Yang Siu), and State of Divinity (as Ting Bat Gong).

3. Scenery/Cinematography
The scenery was excellent in this series. Filming locations included beautiful rivers, forests and mountain ranges. The cinematography was also perfect. The camera-work captured the action and dramatic essence lacking in HK serials (which look like boring soap operas).

4. Costume/Props
The costumes in this series did the job. There were no noticeable flaws with the costumes. Series like Demi-Gods and Semi-Devils 96 had problems with the beard and "bald-head" (for the Shaolin monks) costumes. In other words, in that series the beard and "bald-head" costumes were obvious and one can easily tell that it's a fake. The goal of the director is to not make these types of costumes stand out.

5. Music
The intro music was good for the series. It was full of energy and action and a good selection of scenes from the series were chosen for the introduction. Jackie Chan sings the ending song for each episode! If it wasn't for this series, I would have never thought Jackie Chan was a singer. The only thing I'll say regarding the ending song is that Jackie Chan should stick to fighting.

6. Fighting
The fight scenes were average for an ancient serial. Nothing that really stood out. Most fight scenes were dominated by special effects thanks to Cheung Mo Gei's Keen Kwun Dai Loi Yee. Kung Fu Colt Master (2-hour movie based on HSDS) had way better fight scenes.

7. Ending
The ending is dominated by politics. This may not satisfy kung fu fans. It basically shows the true nature of Chu Yuen Cheng and the methods he uses to gain power. I was personally expecting some kind of a "big" showdown between the main villain and the hero. But alas, there was none. But nevertheless, the ending captures one of the main themes of the series: political ambition and corruption.

The element preventing this series from true excellence is the sub-par acting job of Steve Ma and the average fight scenes. But all-in-all, this is the best Heavenly Sword and Dragon Sabre of the 90's. It is MUCH better than the TVB 2000 version. The storyline in this series is also excellent thanks to Jin Yong (although there are some divergences from the novel in the series). This series is a must-rent!

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