Clans of Intrigue (Chu liu xiang, 1977) is one of those fast-talking wuxias with long subtitles that flit across the screen at the speed of light. Thank god for dvds & the pause button!
This is one of the earliest all-out Gay Wuxia ever filmed, & as such historically significant for the topic of homosexuality in cinema general & martial arts films specifically. It's also quite an exotic tale resembling just about nothing in its genre that came before, & provides the root of later gender-dysphoric films such as several starring Brigitte Lin.
Brother Zhang or Chu Liu-hsiang (Ti Lung) is a recurring character from the heroic fantasy novels of Ku Lung (or Gu Long). He is a famous thief who has acquired great wealth by illicit means, & lives on a floating palace on a river.
He finds himself in the difficult situation of trying to solve the "mystery of the magic water poisonings," making this partially a murder mystery. The princess of the underwater queendom believes only Brother Zhang, of all above-water people, could have gotten access to the toxic waters. The queen will have him killed if he cannot prove there was another thief, & deliver the purported felon to her, within the month.
In his corner are a couple additional characters who help muddle & complicate the plot. Yi Tien-hung (Yun Ling) is the dark cloaked assassin for hire, who owes Brother Zhang a favor. "Black Pearl" (Li Ching) is a chivalrous heroine who gets into scrapes for the sake of a good cause.
Princess Yin Chi of the underwater palace is a lesbian swordswoman, played by Betty Pei Ti, star also of Intimate Confessions of a Chinese Courtesan (Ai nu, 1972). The success of her earlier film, with its famous lesbian sequence, no doubt encouraged the content of Clans of Intrigue with gay men as well as gay women in the storyline.
The monk Wu Hwa seems to be the person who stole the toxic water from the lake-bottom castle, but he too might be innocent.
Evidence points to a certain Yi Feng as a swift calculating swordswoman, the half-Japanese daughter of an Iga ninja. Her father was killed twenty years before by members of four martial arts schools. She's killing off those schools' leaders one by one in revenge.
But this swordswoman has eluded discovery, for the most amazing of reasons. At age fifteen, Yi Feng, while under the training & protection of a blind priest, had turned into a boy, which is why she can no longer be found. She is in fact the same person as Monk Wu.
Princess Yin Chi's favorite is Kung Nan-yen (Nora Miao), a bisexual gal who has taken an interest in the transgendered monk Wu Hua/Yi Feng, which leads to intrigues, battles, & deaths.
Yin Chi is widely known to be an invincible warrior. She fights with darts, empty hand, & swords. Girl fights erupt when it becomes known both Yin Chi & Kung Nan-yen have been lovers of the female-to-male monk.
Monk Wu aka Yi Feng "the woman in the purple dress" clearly has a crush on our hero, the thief Brother Zhang, & expends considerable energy in teasing martial encounters with him.
The method by which Wu/Feng changes sex is not discussed in the storyline, but essentially "he" uses "his" yang energy to corrupt or influence women, & "she" uses "her" yin energy to corrupt or influence men.
It's not until near film's end that we get to visit the under-river palace of Princess Yin Chi.
It's a very stagey set, kind of disappointing visually, but the story "explanations" that unfold amidst swordplay is just campy enough to be rewarding fun.
It's too bad that the gayest of the characters turn out to be the most evil. Transgendered Wu is something of a psychopath, & the lesbian princess a constant source of threats to the definitively good characters. But before the death of the princess, she somewhat redeems her character.
The highly unusual story is mostly sillystuff. So Clans of Intrigue cannot be taken as a significant or serious story. Even if a slight film overall, it's nevertheless original & memorably entertaining.
copyright © by Paghat the Ratgirl