|Zhao Min (Kitty Lai) was the highlight for this series for me|
Sorry for the minimum post this week, have been having three deadlines until next weekend. This post picks up from the HSDS part 1 (eps 1-22) where Zhang Wuji (WJ, Tony Leung) finally met Zhao Min (ZM, Kitty Lai). At first, WJ didn't realise ZM was a Mongolian royalty. He was just attracted to her the way she was to him. WJ had collected three "girlfriends" at this stage: Zhou Zhiruo (the Emei student), the Spider-Girl Yin Li (his cousin from mother's side, actually) and Xiao Zhao (a servant girl who would be the Persian Ming Cult leader later). Dressed as a handsome young man (Kitty was as handsome as Barbara Yung when dressed as a guy), ZM was intrigued at WJ. It didn't take long for her to reveal to WJ that she was a girl, and soon after, she bestowed him a hairpin inside a golden box.
Innocent/ignorant WJ gave the hairpin to Xiao Zhao, which flared ZM when she realised that he'd wasted her intentions. She still managed to make him promise three things in return of a healing paste for Third and Sixth Uncles (the healing paste inside the good box, the ingredients inside the hairpin). WJ promised that he'd do the three things, as long as they were righteous deeds and within his means. The first was that he'd take her to the Fire and Ice Island to see the Dragon Sabre. ZM kept the second and the third promise till later.
Things weren't smooth at first between ZM and WJ. ZM pretended to be WJ and wrecked havoc at Wudang and the Ming headquarters. ZM also captured the Jianghu masters, including the Heroes of Wudang and the Emei ladies. She almost injured ZZR due to jealousy if WJ didn't interfere. Realising that the “Demon Sect” Leader Wuji was concerned with her student, Abbess Ruthless made ZZR swear that she'd never marry WJ, or else their sons would be slaves and their daughters would be prostitutes. How rude!! And you call yourself a nun!
Anyway, with the help of Master Ku (Michael Tao), who was actually the Right Emissary Fan of the Ming Sect, WJ released all hostages, but he lost the Abbess who'd rather jump into her death than being rescued by someone from the "Demon Sect". ZM was keeping her cool despite having her hostages escaping. She reminded WJ that she'd like to see the Dragon Sabre. Thus, WJ, ZM and Xiao Zhao went by boat to search for Xie Xun.
The story progressed until WJ and ZM were comfortable with each other despite their nations being at war. Well, the Mongols invading the Song, I mean. When they eventually found Xie Xun (kept on an island by Granny Golden Flower), ZM risked her life protecting WJ, which caused Xie Xun to applaud her for that.
|Zhang Wuji's four girls (clockwise from top left): Zhou Zhiruo, Zhao Min,|
Xiao Zhao and Yin Li
Later, we learn that Granny Golden Flower was the Purple Dragon of the Ming Cult from Persia. She severed her ties with the Ming after getting married to another taihap (portrayed by Chang Wing-chun; Wu Tit Fa in CLH 84). They had a daughter, Xiao Zhao, which she asked to spy the Mainland Ming so that Purple Dragon could steal the sacred manuscript of the Mainland Ming (this manuscript later fell into Wuji's hand, and he later mastered it in a very short time due to his earlier mastered Jiuyang Manual). After XZ tearfully went back with Mum to Persia, WJ et al (including Xie Xun) decided to have another stop at another island to tend to Spider-Girl's injuries (she was hit by Golden Flower/Purple Dragon, that ungrateful woman!). On the island, WJ and Zhao Min getting more comfy with each other, which triggered jealousy from Zhou Zhiruo.
One morning, WJ woke up feeling weak. The boat they used to travel had gone, ZM gone, and the Heaven Sword and the Dragon Sabre gone too. The conclusion was that ZM used the weakening powder to weaken WJ, ZZR, Spider Girl and Xie Xun. She then stole the weapons and then left them on the island. WJ would have forgiven that act of betrayal had he not found Spider-Girl lethally wounded that morning. She died, WJ buried her, ZZR and Xie Xun forced him to kill ZM when he saw her again to avenge Yin Li. However, a boat arrived later, sent by ZM, to pick them up. WJ, ZZR, and XX returned to the Mainland, ZZR and XX killed the boatmen despite WJ’s objection.
Later, when prowling the night for some clues, WJ did see ZM again. This time, the Princess pretended to be the Ming Leader to save his face from another accusation (forgot which case). WJ protected ZM from the pugilists who wanted to attack her. They then hid inside a large tambourine to listen to the lot, and found out that Shaolin had Xie Xun. This baffled WJ because he left XX with ZZR in an inn before looking around for clue. He returned to the inn with ZM to find XX and ZZR gone missing. The next day, ZM protected him from another attack and got her leg slashed because of that. However, WJ kept walking to find Xie Xun, despite blood dripping from ZM’s leg. Really, WJ! It took a tea shop keeper to remind WJ that the girl cannot walk far with such an injury. WJ tended to her wound, but later left her to search for XX and ZM. Later, he found ZZR held by Kaypang, who fell from grace post Huang Rong's death. No trace of Xie Xun though. He released her and they proceeded to get married. ZM heard about this news and fainted.
On the wedding day though, unexpectedly ZM barged in and demanded that WJ cancelled his wedding as a second promise for her. WJ refused, but then ZM produced a tuff of golden hair. WJ realised it was his godfather's hair, thus he left ZZR at the altar to go with ZM. He actually just wanted to delay the wedding, for he was concerned with Xie Xun, but ZZR was enraged. She attacked ZM with the Jiuyin Baigu Claw style (remember Yang Kang’s evil style he learned from Mei Chaofeng in LOCH?), injured the girl and almost killed her had WJ not intervened. WJ left with ZM and nursed her injuries.
|Zhao Min severing her ties with her Mongolian family|
Wuji and Zhao Min eventually met her father, where she tearfully cut ties with her family and followed WJ instead. They then took shelter with a poor family couple (who turned out to be a couple of taihap), the lady of the house thought WJ and ZM were a runaway couple. Later, the old lady took WJ to Shaolin, where he worked as an errand boy in the daylight and sneaked around to find Xie Xun at night time. He did find Godfather trapped under three dried trees, guarded by three Shaolin masters. WJ tried to rescue Xie Xun to no avail. Having his disguise stripped, he returned to the shack, but en route ZM was the one who found him. Both returned to the house to find the old couple murdered, and a black-clad woman attacking ZM. WJ protected ZM from the attack and told her to always stick with him this time, for the attacker was trying to kill her.
The masked woman was actually ZZR; she had her skills vastly improved because of the Jiuyin Manual she had been learning. The true story, for those who had never watched this series before, is that ZZR was the one who drugged Xie Xun, WJ, ZM and Spider-Girl. She woke ZM up and told her to leave with the boat. She then stole the Heaven Sword (or reclaimed, perhaps, cos the sword did belong to Ermei) and Dragon Sabre, clashed the two weapons and retrieved the Jiuyin Manual and the Book of Wu Mu. Yet, Spider Girl woke up and saw what she had done. Panic, ZZR slashed Yin Li’s face, thus the latter fainted due to blood loss. ZZR then took the poison as well and thus she was also weakened when WJ woke up.
All these, ZZR told WJ herself after Xie Xun left some clues inside the underground cave where he had been kept for a month and WJ suspected that ZZR was the true culprit behind Yin Li’s murder. Around the time of his capture, Xie Xun realised that ZZR was the true evil here, hence ZZR entered the Lion Killing Contest held by Shaolin to murder WJ’s godfather, lest he told Wuji about her wrongdoings.
|Wuji rescuing Zhao Min from Zhou Zhiruo|
Xie Xun was finally rescued through a combination of Ming Sect attack and a help from the Maiden in Yellow Dress, who was the descendant of Yang Guo and Xiao Long Nu (my least favourite Jin Yong couple from ROCH). Xie Xun managed to take revenge on Cheng Kun, the ultimate villain in this series (CK raped Xie Xun’s wife and killed his newborn to avenge his anger to the Ming Sect). The Golden-haired Lion then destroyed his own kungfu and retired from Jianghu. He was later tonsured by Abbot Kongwen (Mr Cheung Ying-choi, Master Ma Yu in LOCH 83 and the Emperor in CLH 84).
ZZR redeemed herself by taking an arrow meant for ZM after ZM was used as a bait by the wulin to defeat the Mongols who attacked Shaolin (despite WJ’s obvious objection, ZM’s hostage situation I mean). ZZR gave WJ the Book of Wu Mu, thus WJ was able to expel the Mongols from Shaolin. She then returned to Emei Sect and resumed leadership there, saying that (she and Wuji) would never met again.
This series ended with WJ leaving the Ming Sect because his men requested that he left the Mongolian Zhao Min. ZM herself had left him earlier because she didn’t want him to choose between her and his organisation. WJ consulted Zhang Sanfeng before making the decision, then he made Left Emissary Yang Xiao the new leader of Ming Sect. In a scene I remembered so well, WJ finally found ZM sitting in an inn they had used as their regular meeting place. He told her not to leave her again; she told him she still had the third request he had not done; which was to paint her very pale eyebrows. He chuckled, embraced her, and then painted her eyebrows.
|Kitty Lai and Tony Leung dated for two years after HSDS 86 (thanks Wina!)|
Having Kitty Lai appearing as Zhao Min definitely enhanced the viewing of this series for me. It's not that I wasn't interested in other characters; the Ming Clan definitely were an interesting lot. When first appearing, ZM was a cunning Mongolian princess eager to have the wulin (the Jianghu community) supporting the Yuan Dynasty by any means necessary. Her feeling to Zhang Wuji was definitely like-but-annoyed at first sight, but she grew to like him and admire his leadership. When her love for Wuji proved to be too much, with an apparent heartbreak she cut the ties with her family. But make no mistake: ZM was still a Mongolian in the romantic term, though no longer in the political term. This is what I've been whining about with Yelut Chai (Simon Yam) in ROCH 1983. It's great that he ditched the oppressive Yuan government in favour of the Songs, but I still think a response like ZM's is more believable. ZM cut the ties with the oppressing regime, but still kept her identity as a Mongol. She found it difficult to learn about rebelling actions against her nation, knowing that her government was in the wrong and thus she couldn't do anything to help them.
Min-min's chemistry with Wuji was believable and IMO one of the most interesting aspects of this series. WJ's interactions with his godfather and great grand teacher Zhang Sanfeng and Simon Yam-Dodo Cheng chemistry were the other ones. I don't think I would have loved the series so much when I was a kid had it not because of these facets.
|Yang Xiao (right in red) was the obvious leader in Wuji's absence|
Master Ku, the Right Emissary Fan Yao (Michael Tao) and Yang Xiao (Newton Lai), the Left Emissary were other characters that I liked watching in the second part of this series. Yang Xiao was a believable leader to lead the Ming Sect post Wuji. Funny enough, I prefer to see Michael Tao as the scarred-face Master Ku than when he was still the handsome Emissary Fan. Perhaps his colder demeanour as the Master is the attracting factor. IMO, Michael Tao was more interesting as Emissary Fan Yao than as Pon Sau in the Legend of Dik Ching, although he was still enjoyable there (Dik Ching synopsis later this weekend if I can manage).
When I was a kid, one of the highlights of this series was when ZM appeared on screen. I enjoyed SM teasing WJ inside the large tambourine. Despite his idiocy, I appreciated WJ taking care of the injured ZM, and also protecting her from Zhou Zhiruo's wrath at least twice (one during the cancelled wedding and two inside the shack when ZZR used the Jiuyin Claw to attack ZM). I still enjoy it now, and appreciate that WJ finally was able to make up his mind of who he truly loved.
I’m also glad that the series did not adopt HSDS second edition (1979) with the vague ending. In the second ed, ZZR told Wuji that he also owed her, just as Wuji was about to paint ZM’s eyebrows. WTH...? Here’s the ending (Chapter 40) taken from Wuxia Society translation:
Zhang Wuji was so engrossed in writing the letter that he did not know when [Zhou Zhiruo] arrived outside the window. The shutters slowly opened and Zhou Zhiruo’s beautiful face appeared. Under the candlelight, she looked smiling, yet she was not exactly smiling.
Zhang Wuji was startled again. “You … what do you want me to do?” he asked.
Zhou Zhiruo smiled and said, “I haven’t thought about it now, but when you and Zhao Jia Meizi [little sister of Zhao family] are ready to bow to the Heaven and the Earth to get married, I am sure I will think of something by then.”
Zhang Wuji turned to look at Zhao Min, and then he turned again to look at Zhou Zhiruo. In that instant, a myriad of thoughts raced around in his mind. He was unsure if he should be happy or if he should be worried. His hand trembled and the brush fell on the table …
So, yeah, as I said: What the heck.
The pacing of the last few episodes was uneven, IMHO. We had two episodes or so of Wuji trying to rescue his adopted father the Golden-haired Lion Xie Xun (which could have been cut shorter, but not as dragging as the Dali flashback episode in LOCH 1983) but very little time of the post Shaolin scenes where they returned to Wudang and sorted the internal Ming mess that emerged due to Wuji's relationship with ZM. Fine to see Wuji defending Min-min, I think that was very chivalrous of him. But I also want to see the internal rift of Ming Sect due to the presence of Zhu Yuanzhang, allegedly a minor sect leader which rose to become Emperor Hongwu, the first emperor of the Ming Dynasty. Even just a mention of Zhu's moves would do, for it was indeed mentioned in the HSDS book.
The OST of this series is not so memorable IMO compared to the other Condor Trilogy series. I fail to dig the opening theme despite it being delivered by Tony Leung himself and the late Anita Mui. Other themes were also not so memorable. The most memorable one was definitely the melancholic theme song, which often accompanied heartbreaking scenes.
I still see the trademark of Johnnie To here. Despite some pacing problems, this series is nowhere near the boredom that the Return of Condor Heroes 1983 gave me (no Johnnie To there). In fact, I really like this series. Since I’ve now seen the Legend of Condor Heroes 1983 as well, I can rate LOCH 1983 as my favourite, the HSDS 1986 as the runner up and the ROCH 1983 as a distance bronze medallist among the 1980s Condor Trilogy. I really think I should make a post on Johnnie To filmography later. He was definitely a good wuxia director.