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Film / Swordsman

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Swordsman (1990) (笑傲江湖) and Swordsman II (1992) (笑傲江湖II东方不败) are a pair of Hong Kong Wuxia films loosely adapted from Jin Yong's Wuxia novel The Smiling, Proud Wanderer (笑傲江湖). Swordsman was directed by King Hu Jinquan(With an uncredited Tsui Hark) and Swordsman II was directed by Ching Siu-tung, with both films produced by Tsui Hark.

While Swordsman (1990) is generally viewed as a decent Wuxia film on its own, Swordsman II (1992) is more memorable and critically acclaimed, partly due to the popular portrayal of Dongfang Bubai by Brigitte Lin, and also for better execution in portraying the themes of wuxia conflict. For Swordsman II, none of the cast from Swordsman (1990) returned, with the exception of Fennie Yuen who reprises her role as Lan Fenghuang.

The films depict the adventures of Linghu Chong, a disciple of the Huashan Sect, when he tries to disengage himself from the politics and violent power struggles that occur frequently in the martial artists' world (Or Jianghu), with little success. The MacGuffin involved is the Sunflower Manual (Kuihua Baodian), a martial arts manual which allows one who mastered its skills to become the most formidable martial artist and by extension, dominate the Jianghu. While Linghu Chong and his companions had little interest in the manual, many other martial artists do not think the same way, and Linghu Chong gets himself entangled in their politics.

Swordsman III: The East is Red (1993) (东方不败之风云再起) concludes the series. Brigitte Lin made a name for herself with her portrayal of Dongfang Bubai, or Asia The Invincible, an androgynous villain who debuts in the second movie. The third movie notably had her taking over the role as a Villain Protagonist, and becoming involved in an all-out war of control between two foreign superpowers who wanted to control the seas around China. Assisting a team of Imperial officers, led by Gu Chang-feng (Yu Rong-guang), all who had their own ulterior motives, Asia the Invincible will end up shaking the world of martial arts completely.

The Film Series Provides Examples Of:

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    Swordsman (1990) 
  • Adaptation Distillation: This film as well as its sequel undergo this a lot, since its impossible to cover the entire novel and its details within 2 movies. For instance, the MacGuffin Sunflower Manual in this film is a combination of the novel's Sunflower Manual and Bixie Swordplay Manual.
  • Adaptational Wimp: Zuo Lengchan in this film is merely an underground lackey of Gu Jinfu and is said to be inferior to the Huashan sect overall. In the novel, he led Songshan sect and was the overall leader of the Five Mountain Sword Sects Alliance, which includes Huashan sect and Songshan sect. His best feat in the novel was defeating Ren Woxing.
  • Big Bad Ensemble: Yue Buqun and Gu Jinfu. Both seek the Sunflower Manual. Neither had any intention of sharing the knowledge.
  • Broken Pedestal: Yue Buqun, the Chief of Huashan Sect, became this to Linghu Chong after Yue Buqun was exposed as a power-hungry hypocrite who lusts after the Sunflower Manual.
  • Canon Foreigner: Ouyang Quan and Gu Jinfu does not appear in the original novel.
  • Childhood Friend Romance: The unlucky variant. Yue Lingshan had an obvious crush on Linghu Chong in both films, but Linghu Chong did not reciprocate since he thinks of her as more of a sister. In the novel, the attraction went the opposite way instead, where it was Linghu Chong whose love for Yue Lingshan was unrequited.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: Lin Zhennan's wife was brutally mutilated and killed by Zuo Lengchan.
  • Death by Adaptation: Lin Pingzhi was killed off early in the film, and Ouyang Quan impersonates him for most of the film.
  • The Dog Bites Back: Ouyang Quan assisted in killing Gu Jinfu when he realized that if his master defeats the heroes, he will be next to be killed.
  • Eunuchs Are Evil: The main antagonist of the film is an Eunuch, Gu Jinfu.
  • Good Bad Girl: Lan Fenghuang is depicted as always lusting after men.
  • Humiliation Conga: Linghu Chong leaves Yue Buqun alive, with his martial arts ability largely disabled and his hypocrisy exposed to everyone. The copy of the "Sunflower Manual" Yue Buqun made turned out to be a musical score for Xiao Ao Jiang Hu, which is totally useless for his ambitions, if he had any left.
  • Hypocrite: Yue Buqun is quickly revealed to be one in the audience's eyes in his first couple of appearances. His hypocrisy was only exposed to his disciples and daughter towards the end of the film.
  • Instant Expert: A particularly glaring example in the film, where Feng Qingyang briefly demonstrates the "Nine Swords of Dugu" swordplay on some mooks before leaving. Apparently a simple demonstration allowed Linghu Chong to use those skills to defeat his former master, who is definitely one of the high-tier martial artists. This is averted in the novel where Feng Qingyang took far more time to teach Linghu Chong the entire "Nine Swords of Dugu" swordplay.
  • Just Testing You: After Yue Buqun failed to get Linghu Chong to tell him Lin Zhennan's secret message in a legitimate way, he was forced to praise Linghu Chong for being a lawful and morally upright disciple, claiming to be testing his character all along.
  • Loophole Abuse: Yue Buqun repeatedly invoked different Huashan sect rules so that Linghu Chong would reveal the secret message (Supposed only to be passed down to Lin Pingzhi) to him legitimately. Linghu Chong had to invoke other Huashan sect rules to counter his master's arguments. One needs to keep in mind that Huashan sect is deemed an "orthodox" group. This scene is clearly a thinly veiled satire of how politicians use the law for their own ends.
  • Pay Evil unto Evil: Zuo Lengchan suffered a painful death at the hands of Ren Yingying, Linghu Chong, and Lan Fenghuang. He deserves this and arguably more, for his despicable acts throughout the film.
  • Reptiles Are Abhorrent: Subverted trope. Lan Fenghuang used venomous snakes as a weapon and is a member of an ostensibly evil Sun-Moon sect. It turned out that the real villains of the film are those who seek the Sunflower Manual at all costs.
  • Secret-Keeper: Lin Zhennan made Linghu Chong promise to pass on a secret message only to his son Lin Pingzhi (The location of the MacGuffin). Technically, Linghu Chong had broken his promise as he had unknowingly passed on the secret message to Ouyang Quan, who impersonated the recently killed Lin Pingzhi.
  • Selective Obliviousness: Linghu Chong only realized his master's true colors towards the end of the film.
  • Shameless Fanservice Girl: Downplayed for Yue Lingshan. While she's bathing, she had absolutely no problem being seen topless by Linghu Chong, but nearly freaks out when male servants (Who did not know that she's female) attempted to attend to her bath tub.
  • Smug Snake: Gu Jinfu's subordinate Ouyang Quan had his own agenda for the MacGuffin... Not that Gu Jinfu's suspicions wasn't aroused.
  • Surpassed the Teacher: Linghu Chong defeated Yue Buqun at the end of the film, by using the "Nine Swords of Dugu" swordplay he picked up from Feng Qingyang.
  • Title Drop: The musical score Xiao Ao Jiang Hu was passed down to Linghu Chong upon the owners' impending deaths, which was pretty much what happened in the novel too.
  • Token Romance: Linghu Chong's first encounter with Ren Yingying. The attraction only exists because of the healing therapy Ren Yingying applied on Linghu Chong to save his life, and very little romantic development occurred after that. Removing that specific romantic attraction scene wouldn't have affected the film's plot at all.
  • Weapon Specialization: Ren Yingying's weapon of choice is a whip. She is capable of blowing up a person with a single hit!

    Swordsman II (1992) 
  • An Arm and a Leg: Happens quite a few times in the film to various characters and bit-players.
  • Armor-Piercing Response: Ren Woxing scoffed at Linghu Chong's decision to retire from Jianghu, stating that as long as humans exist, there will be enmity, and as long as there is enmity, there will be Jianghu. Proving Ren Woxing's point, Linghu Chong and Yue Lingshan did nurse a personal grudge with Dongfang Bubai and willingly participated in the final showdown. Basically, Linghu Chong's dreams of retiring from Jianghu is largely a pipe dream.
  • Ascended Extra: In the novel, Dongfang Bubai's appearance was very brief - Only fought once and get killed off by Ren Woxing. In this film, Dongfang Bubai is the main antagonist and had multiple romantic scenes with the main protagonist. This film's popular portrayal of Dongfang Bubai inspired the increased focus on Dongfang Bubai for quite a few TV adaptations of Smiling, Proud Wanderer.
  • Attractive Bent-Gender: Dongfang Bubai castrated himself to master the skills in Sunflower Manual and became feminine over time, to the point where a mutual attraction forms between him and Linghu Chong.
  • Ax-Crazy: Ren Woxing quickly becomes deranged and impatient for revenge after Linghu Chong freed him from prison.
  • Big Bad: Dongfang Bubai is the main antagonist of this film and he is also the most formidable martial artist seen in the film.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Linghu Chong finally gets to retire from the Jianghu, but at the cost of separation from his lover Ren Yingying and the death of almost all his companions, with only Yue Lingshan left as company.
  • Bizarre Taste in Food: As a callback to the first film, Linghu Chong used scorpions to ferment his wine, claiming that it would make the wine more potent. For those who did not understand the reference - In the first film, Linghu Chong was nearly killed by poisoned wine.
  • Composite Character: Linghu Chong in this film is actually a combination of the novel's Linghu Chong and Yang Lianting. In the novel, Yang Lianting was Dongfang Bubai's lover and key reason for Dongfang Bubai's defeat. As for the film, Yang Lianting's name only gets a mention.
  • Dangerous Forbidden Technique: The Sunflower Manual was revealed to be this - Mastering the skills in the manual require the practitioner to be castrated.
  • Deconstruction: This film explores the hero and villain archetype in the Wuxia context.
    • Can Linghu Chong be considered a hero? One who consistently wants to stay out of all conflicts unless he was seeking revenge?
    • Is Ren Woxing a hero or a villain? Although he aims to overthrow the cruel and ruthless leader of the Sun-Moon sect, his later actions as their new leader showed that he is no better.
    • The antagonist Dongfang Bubai believes that his actions are for the greater good of his people. Is that what a villain is?
  • Dramatic Irony: Linghu Chong encountered Dongfang Bubai early in the film, but had no idea who he really is and even mistaken him for a woman. The two even fell in love with each other over the course of the film. While the audience knew from the start what is going on, Linghu Chong only realized the awful truth in the final showdown.
  • Enemy Mine: Initially, Linghu Chong wanted nothing to do with Ren Woxing's ambition. When Dongfang Bubai wiped out the entire Huashan Sect, which were unrelated to the conflict, Linghu Chong sought revenge for his slain companions and teamed up with Ren Woxing to kill Dongfang Bubai.
  • Eunuchs Are Evil: The main antagonist of the film is Dongfang Bubai, who castrated himself.
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones:
    • Despite his bloodthirsty ways, Ren Woxing does love his daughter Ren Yingying.
    • For all his mental perversion after practicing the martial arts in the Sunflower Manual, Dongfang Bubai does love Shishi. And obviously, not to forget about him falling in love with Linghu Chong.
  • Eye Scream: Just like what happened in the novel, Dongfang Bubai injured one of Ren Woxing's eyes with a needle.
  • Facial Horror: Xiang Wentian was depicted with a disfigured face, which he often covers it up. Linghu Chong's first fight with him exposed his disfigurement to the audience for the first time.
  • Gratuitous Ninja: At one point, Japanese Ninjas are featured, allying with Dongfang Bubai's Sun-Moon sect.
  • Iconic Sequel Character: Dongfang Bubai finally made her debut in the second movie, where she easily takes over the leading roles all the way into the third.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: In a rare moment of lucidity, Ren Woxing scoffed at Linghu Chong's dream of retiring from Wuxia politics, pointing out that as long as people exist there will be politics, an interesting discussion point that the original novel Smiling, Proud Wanderer never actually raised.
  • Kick the Dog: Dongfang Bubai proved how vicious he is by slaughtering the entire Huashan Sect, who were largely not involved in the conflict, are of little physical threat to him, and had no political power left. It was their deaths that triggered Linghu Chong to get involved with the affairs of Jianghu again.
  • Last Stand: Lan Fenghuang was clearly no match for Dongfang Bubai, so as a last resort she spat corrosive venom at Dongfang Bubai. She was killed for her efforts, but hey, at least she succeeded damaging a tiny portion of Dongfang Bubai's clothes.
  • Lonely at the Top: Implied. Dongfang Bubai was drawn towards Linghu Chong partly because the latter doesn't know who he is and hence had no fear of him.
  • Long Last Look: In the end, Linghu Chong and Yue Lingshan were forced to leave for Japan without Ren Yingying.
  • Martial Pacifist: Following the events of the first film, Linghu Chong really wanted to retire from the Jianghu, but circumstances often did not allow him to do so. The straw that broke the camel's back was when Huashan Sect's disciples were completely slaughtered by Dongfang Bubai, forcing him into an Enemy Mine situation with Ren Woxing.
  • Moment of Lucidity: Ren Woxing is an Ax-Crazy character throughout much of this movie, but in the third act of the film, he momentarily allied with Linghu Chong and they had a relatively reasonable conversation about the upcoming fight. In particular, Ren Woxing rebuked Linghu Chong for the latter's dream of retiring from Jianghu (i.e.: Wuxia politics), pointing out that there will be politics as long as people are around.
  • Moment of Weakness: Dongfang Bubai consistently had the edge over all his opponents in the final battle, despite their combined efforts. It was his love for Linghu Chong that made him held back, allowing Linghu Chong to injure him.
  • Noble Demon: Xiang Wentian was ordered by Ren Woxing to capture Linghu Chong. Torn between his loyalty to Ren Woxing and his respect for Linghu Chong, he Took a Third Option and cut off his own arm instead, urging Linghu Chong to run away.
  • "Not So Different" Remark: Linghu Chong realized that Ren Woxing, the imprisoned former leader of the Sun-Moon sect (Who he helped to free), was just as ruthless and blood-thirsty as Dongfang Bubai.
  • One-Man Army: Dongfang Bubai. He slaughtered the entire Huashan sect members with little effort. In the final showdown, he had an edge over the combined efforts of Ren Woxing, Linghu Chong, Xiang Wentian, Ren Yingying, and Yue Lingshan, of which Ren Woxing and Linghu Chong themselves are One-Man Army too!
  • Power Parasite: Ren Woxing's Star Sucking skill is capable of absorbing his opponent's inner energy and boosting his own. In this film, it is depicted such that his victims' body mass are often drained as well!
  • Queer Romance: A major dramatic element in this film, which is rare or even unique for a 1990s Wuxia film. Dongfang Bubai and Linghu Chong developed a mutual attraction over the course of the film. The "Queer" aspect of this trope is somewhat downplayed since Linghu Chong is unaware of Dongfang Bubai's actual gender until the final showdown, and Dongfang Bubai is played by female actor Brigitte Lin. However, the audience can clearly see that the story is portraying a romantic attraction between two men.
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: Linghu Chong and Yue Lingshan postponed their retirement from Jianghu for a shot at Dongfang Bubai, because he killed all their companions.
  • Sacrificial Lion: Lan Fenghuang and the entire Huashan sect (Excluding Linghu Chong and Yue Lingshan).
  • Star-Crossed Lovers: Linghu Chong did not get to be together with Ren Yingying after all the adventures. In the novel, he eventually married Ren Yingying after Ren Woxing's sudden death.
  • Supernatural Martial Arts: Very much so, especially when it comes to Ren Woxing and Dongfang Bubai.
  • Sympathy for the Devil: After revelation that Dongfang Bubai is actually a male and a final showdown, Linghu Chong tried to save a dying Dongfang Bubai, asking whether did both of them really slept together. Instead of answering, Dongfang Bubai chose a Disney Death, wanting Linghu Chong to regret never knowing the truth (Dongfang Bubai sent his concubine Shishi to sleep with Linghu Chong in-lieu of his own inability to do so).
  • Token Evil Teammate: Among the main players opposing Dongfang Bubai, it is Ren Woxing who is the most deranged and cruel.
  • Undying Loyalty:
    • Dongfang Bubai's concubine Shishi. She loved her master even when he (could) no longer make love to her, "proving" her loyalty by sleeping with Linghu Chong upon Dongfang Bubai's request, and subsequently committed suicide by poison because her body no longer belongs to Dongfang Bubai alone.
    • Xiang Wentian and Ren Yingying to Ren Woxing. Xiang Wentian would cut off his own arm as penance for disobeying Ren Woxing's orders. Ren Yingying is Ren Woxing's daughter, and she chose to stay with her father when given a choice to run away with Linghu Chong.
  • Ungrateful Bastard: Ren Woxing. Linghu Chong freed him from prison and also assisted him in the final battle with Dongfang Bubai. Despite this, Ren Woxing decided to treat him as an enemy, since he deemed Linghu Chong a threat to his ambition.
  • Yandere: A severely injured Dongfang Bubai enters this mode at the end of the film when Linghu Chong continues to oppose him.

    Swordsman III: The East Is Red (1993) 

  • Beat Still, My Heart: During the Sun Moon Sect massacre, Dongfang Bubai kills the Sect's leader by unleashing a blast of qi into his chest, ripping his heart out which ends up flying through the air.
  • Bullet Catch: Dongfang Bubai does this when facing the Portuguese soldiers. In her first scene, the soldiers tries shooting at her from a distance, but she simply plucks their bullets out of thin air and throws them back at the soldiers, killing all of them; later on, she grabs cannonballs fired at her and blows up the Japanese soldiers on the deck of the ship that fires them!
  • Epic Ship-on-Ship Action: The film concludes with an absolutely massive naval battle between the Portuguese, Japanese and Ming navy, blasting each other to pieces. The Japanese ends up destroying the Portuguese Man-of-War first, before Dongfang Bubai forces her way into the Japanese ship and destroys it from within, then flinging the ruins of the Japanese ship into the Ming vessel.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Dongfang Bubai doesn't take it kindly to foreigners trying to conquer China, the Imperial Court double-crossing each other, or the Sun Moon Sect's superstitious elders indulging in human sacrifices.
  • Gratuitous English: "Holy Dongfang Bubai..."
  • Greater-Scope Villain: The Japanese side is led by General Krigakure, who never actually shows up in the entire movie. When Dongfang Bubai enters the Japanese camp to confront him, she ends up meeting a midget henchman posing as him.
  • Human Sacrifice: The Sun Moon Cult is shown to indulge in these sort of practices, graphically ripping out a woman's heart to appease their deities for powers. It's their actions which disgusts Dingfang Bubai until she decides to just wipe out the whole cult, there and then.
  • Human Shield: When General Krigakure sets up an acid trap for Dongfang Bubai and had a midget follower pose as him, Dongfang Bubai retaliates by grabbing the midget to use as a shield for an acid blast.
  • Kite Riding: A few samurais rides on kites while firing rifles towards the Ming navy.
  • Latex Perfection: The movie opens with an old woman leading a group of Portugese conquistadors through the Chinese hills to show them Dongfang Bubai's burial ground. But upon reaching and finding out the grave is empty, the old woman rips off her latex mask, revealing herself to the audience to be Dongfang Bubai the whole time.
  • Master of Threads: Asia the Invincible, the Villain Protagonist of the third movie, can unleash and manipulate fine threads, using them to grab opponents from a distance away or slice people into shreds. She uses this power to massacre an entire sect of cultists with her threads and later on slices up some samurai Mooks.
  • Mle Trois: The entirety of the movie is basically a three-way melee between the Japanese navy led by General Krigakure, Portugese Conquistadors and Dongfang Bubai for territorial control over the seas around China. Dongfang Bubai is the only survivor in the aftermath of the battle.
  • Razor Floss: A new attack method used by Dongfang Bubai, which allows her to slice up her targets with ease.
  • Samurai: The Imperial Japanese navy consists entirely of samurais.
  • Tap on the Head: Officer Gu knocks out his subordinate by popping a vein beside his temple, and said subordinate doesn't show up for the rest of the movie (implied to have died, somehow).
  • Thought You Were Dead: The death of Dongfang Bubai in the end of Swordsman 2 has caused an uproar in the sects of the martial arts world, as well as for foreign powers to invade China... except she didn't. Her first scene is literally her telling the Portuguese conquistadors (and the audience) that she isn't dead at all.
  • Villain Protagonist: Dongfang Bubai, Asia the Invincible. The film's Chinese title is even named specifically after her!