CLANS OF INTRIGUE - Ti Lung as swordsman framed for murder
CLANS OF INTRIGUE (1977) is another in the series of Shaw Bros. swordplay adventures directed by Chor Yuen (aka Chu Yuan) and adapted by studio scribe I Kuang from novels by prolific author Ku Lung, which present an elaborate alternate universe "martial arts world" recreated with great care on lavish Shaw Bros. sets. Other collaborations of the three include KILLER CLANS (1976) and THE MAGIC BLADE (1976), both also reviewed on this site. CLANS OF INTRIGUE is less action-packed than the earlier films and plays more as a detective drama, with the emphasis on a large-scale investigation as a swordsman framed for murder tries to find out who has killed three clan chiefs and why.
Ti Lung stars as "Thief Master" Chu Liu-hsiang, a high-living swordsman who travels around on his own private boat attended by three beautiful female "students" referred to somewhat indelicately in the new English subtitles as "the babes." When Chu is accused of murder by a female fighter (Nora Miao) from the Palace of Magic Water, he has to find out who has killed three clan leaders and sent out letters accusing him of the deeds. The investigation takes him to a number of different towns and puts him in conflict with several other factions. A mysterious killer in red stalks him, killing off those who give him information. An enigmatic woman in purple known by three painted portraits of her also figures in the investigation, as does a flashback telling us the fate of a Japanese ninja who'd come to China and his two children. A desert clan leader's daughter, clad all in black, first opposes Chu and then assists him.
The plot gets very complicated, but moves quickly and efficiently, keeping close track of its large cast of fascinating characters, all played by worthy Shaw Bros. players including Yueh Hua (COME DRINK WITH ME), Ku Feng (THE HEROIC ONES), Ling Yun (SWIFT SWORD), Tien Ching (BOXER FROM SHANTUNG), and several attractive actresses including Nora Miao (FIST OF FURY), Nancy Yen (7 GRANDMASTERS), Li Ching (KING EAGLE) and the stunning Betty Pei Ti (INTIMATE CONFESSIONS OF A Chinese COURTESAN) as the manipulative, icily beautiful Princess Yin-Chi, who recalls similar femme fatale characters played by Chan Ping in KILLER CLANS and Tien Ni in THE MAGIC BLADE.
The energetic Ti Lung plays a hero more charming and good-humored than the deadly lone swordsman he played in the more serious MAGIC BLADE. His character here is somewhat reminiscent of Hollywood secret agent Derek Flint, played by James Coburn in OUR MAN FLINT (1966), who was equally a master of weapons, a shrewd undercover investigator and served by three beautiful "babes" who also got captured by the villains at one point.
There are fewer swordfights and more talk than usual for this kind of film, which is fine with me, given the intricate nature of the plot, a sprawling puzzle in which important pieces are added with every scene. The fights are briefer than the spectacular setpieces in THE MAGIC BLADE, although Ti Lung and Yueh Hua have a notable climactic kung fu bout. It's a magnificent-looking production, staged on massive, well-lit Shaw Bros. interior sets, with a great cast dressed in beautiful costumes and expertly photographed, all in the service of a clever, entertaining storyline.
CLANS OF INTRIGUE should not be confused with SON OF WU TANG (aka CLUTCH OF POWER, 1977), whose alternate title is sometimes erroneously listed as CLANS OF INTRIGUE.
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