With two unweildy titles for the price of one, the original title in English was All Men are Brothers: Blood of the Leopard with the second title on the box & on the subtitles being Water Margin: The True Colors of Heroes (Shui hu zhuan zhi ying xiong ben se; or, Shu wo juen ying hung boon sik, 1992).
This is based from the famous novel of late Ching & Sung Dynasty heroes, Water Margin aka All Men are Brothers: Outlaws of the Marsh(Shui Hu Zhuan) by Guanshong Luo. The episode developed for this film outlines the exploits of the warrior Lin Chun before he became one of "the 108 heroes" known to every school kid in China.
As a remake of Pursuit (Lin chong ye ben, 1972), & despite having been filmed two decades later, the newer version remains a totally "old school" wuxia. Except for the dubious quick-edits & wire-work, this seems like a 1970s Shaw Brothers film.
The rapid-cut editing is the sort of thing usually done for actors who can't actually fight. But in the few scenes with sustained shots, the primary leads do really well, & it's just too bad the bulk of the action scenes are dominated by quick-cuts that ruin any sense of real duelling.
If not for the editing style I think this could've been a great film-of-kind. But to be so action-dominated, the editing style makes the action look phony; conviction is undermined. It could've been worse, though, as the film barely predates the take-over of CGI which further fudges the inept & extinguishes all credibility of action.
Even with the annoying fast-edit trickery & the less than perfect wire-work, now & then one of the moments of extreme violence is breathtaking, including when Lin Chung the Leopard walks the whole length of the haft of a spear that had pinned him through the shoulder, & other bits so startling I won't reveal them lest I spoil the shock.
The real strength of the film is in the actors' highly believable portrait of warrior bonding, friendship, loyalty so intense it approaches the sort of "comrade love" that was notorious among the samurai & the Dorians & probably commonplace in medieval China, too.
Tony Ka Fae Leung plays Lin Chung, the Leopard, a war hero who has become a military instructor at the court of a Manchu general.
Lin is having trouble adjusting to the corruption that abounds. His sense of duty is powerful so he serves well even those who are nowhere near his equal in honor, who are often outright villains. But his sense of compassion & honesty makes that duty a troubling burden. Eventually, all it takes is a judgemental glance at General Kao (Lau Shun) to find himself subject of an unjust man's displeasure.
General Kao would probably have tolerated Lin without ever rewarding his dutifulness, but Kao Junior (Sin Lap-man) is a rapist & coward whose father spoils him even knowing the young man is vile.
When Lin's wife (Joey Wang Cho-yin) falls upon Young Kao's list of women to force himself upon, she beats the crap out of him, & he runs to daddy saying Lin did it, not wanting to admit a girl beat him up. Kao asks his son point-blank, "Did you try to rape his wife?" & when Young Kao realizes his dad isn't going to be easily manipulated into punishing Lin & giving him LIn's wife, he falls back on court intrigues to get his way.
In an environment unsuited to his disposition, Lin at least takes pleasure in his companions. An aggressive monk with an eight-pound Zen staff can punch the air & explode things from a distance. He's the rebel monk Ru Chu Sun (Elvis Tsui Kam-kong). He & Lin become fast companions, & they are almost like lovers their bond is so close.
Lin's wife is rightly a little jealous of the monk, but tries always to be supportive. Ever since Lin became a veritable courtier no longer living the life of a complete warrior, he has not had such a friend as Ru Chu Sun, & his wife wants to be happy for him.
Ru & Lin's wrist-fight in bed together is a pure expression of "comrade love," & when his wife says, "you really have a martial art lover. I'll let you sleep together," & later asks, "On which side are you sleeping?" the double-entandres are not purely humor. They eventually do "marry" as brothers.
Another man of noble spirit has arrived from a long journey to request martial instruction from Lin, & wants to pay Lin for the privilege of being his student by giving him his family's only treasure, the Sabre of Dew.
This is brother Tso Wu (Lau Ching-wan), who will prove to possess one of the most sacrificing of heroic spirits. This character is not in the original novel at all but, was completely made up for the film. Yet he fits the tale perfectly & his role, though very, is moving & beautifully played.
As a tale of male friendship & love, this has many truly lovely moments. But Lin's admiration akin to love for men can also get him in trouble. He has admired the skill of a fellow military instructor to the imperiod guard, Lu Chien (Lam Wai). This man is Lin's equal at arms, & he has mistaken the man for a loyal friend.
Having embraced him as a great man, Lin is too slow to realize Lu Chien has merely preyed upon his sentimentality toward a fellow knight. Deceitful Lu Chien had completely adapted to the norms of the Manchu court. He becomes instrumental in Lin being framed by court officials, for only someone he trusted & cared about could have baited him into the position in which he found himself. "You befriended the wrong man," Lu Chien says rather too proudly.
Despite the support of this courtly world's only decent official, the Prime Minister (Wu Ma), there is no evading Lin being sent into exile. This was to spare his life, & since Lin had only even been completely happy when actively a warrior, it might not have been too bitter, sad though he feels to be separated from his wife.
But intrigues of court still manage to torment him even across such a distance. Dispiriting orders arrive from General Kao: He is never to wear a coat no matter how cold it gets. And he is commanded to fast for days on end, at a time when energy is most required for battles.
He is being intentionally weakened to facilitate the plan for his assassination. Yet if a superior's instructions are to go without food or proper clothing, he is obedient to the last, even knowing their purpose is malicious.
The monk Ru saves him from assassins & tries to convince Lin to run away with him to Mount Liang Shan Po, where many heroes live as chivalrous bandits fighting against the sorts of men Lin presently serves, giving what they steal to the poor. Ru knows they will welcome Lin as the newest "criminal." But Lin has at least the goodwill of the Prime Minister, & will never fail his duty.
Tso Wu in the attempted to protect Lin's wife from the insistent rapist. Repeatedly foiled, the vile son of General Kao eventually murders the woman since she has frustrated his lust. Wickedness rises more & more when Lu Chien assassinates the good Prime Minister, so that Lin will never again have an advocate in the government.
On the wintry front, Lin has become tubercular even with Ru's best efforts to care for him. Assassins of General Kao continue to try for him, but have found him to be formidable whether or not ill.
Tso Wu, injured, arrives to report the sad fate of Lin's wife, but Lin's private guard have mistaken him for another assassin. Tso Wu had seen the set up & knew this was liable to happen, so clutched in his teeth a letter written in his own blood about Lin's wife. Thus, even beheaded, he was able to get the message to Lin.
It is time for the faithful vassal to rebel. Liu makes a great pretence of divorcing his brother, which breaks the monk's heart. It was an act intended to keep him from following on the great raid of vengeance. A folksong can be heard, which runs in part, "I bid farewell to my friend as I tread the path alone."
Starved, sick, alone . . . he passes through a barrage of canon fire & steps out of the smoke staggering toward his alarmed foes.
Despite how much of it becomes laughable Wire Fu Follies, the context for this fight is so emotional that its impact cannot be ruined by silly choreography. The story has thankfully direct rather than the usual convoluted mess imposed on so many wuxia costume epics.
It could've been so much better with realistic choreography instead of fast-edits & wires & flying through the air. Nevertheless, that last brutal fight with Lu Chien has a momentous glamor, as this really is one of the great martial tales.
copyright © by Paghat the Ratgirl