Clans Of Intrigue – A Mystery With No Deduction

Country: Hong Kong
Genre: Martial Arts/ Action/ Drama
Director: Chor Yuen
Year: 1977

Rating: ★★½☆☆


It’s an odd thing. I’m sure that director Chor Yuen has made exactly the movie he wanted to with Clans of Intrigue. Yuen has taken a classic Chinese wuxia mystery novel and translated it literally to the screen. The production is epic with endless luxurious sets. The martial arts coordination by Wong Pau-Gei and Tong Gai, while not peerless, is very, very good. And yet, the movie just doesn’t work.

Someone has killed three of the top martial artists from three of China’s most powerful clans. Magic water from the Magic Palace was used in all three killings. This leads Princess Yin Chi (Betty Pei Ti), the boss of the Magic Palace, to believe that master thief Chu Liu Hsiang (Ti Lung) is behind the killings because only he would be able to sneak into the Magic Palace, steal the magic water, and escape undetected. Chu Liu Hsiang is given one month to find the real killer and hand him over or forfeit his own life.

So, in order to save his own life, Chu Liu Hsiang steps into the role of detective.

So, what we have here is a detective mystery set in imperial China. That’s kind of fun. The only problem is that it’s almost impossible to follow Chu Liu Hsiang’s logic as he runs down clues. Since Clans of Intrigue is adapted from a classic Chinese novel, I can only assume that screenwriter Ni Kuang wasn’t able to give enough grounding in the story for the clues to make sense. Chu Liu Hsiang seems to pull clues out of his own ass without rhyme or reason. In the watching, his “detective work” seems almost completely arbitrary. Every once in a while, a character will drop a huge chunk of exposition into the story.

In other words, we have a mystery in which the mystery elements don’t work at all. That pretty much dooms Clans Of Intrigue. But there are other problems. The way the filmmakers have envisioned the movie, Clans of Intrigue, the characters have all the psychological realism and depth of those from a Hardy Boys novel. So, it’s impossible to care about any of the characters.

That’s a real pity because the central story ideas of Clans Of Intrigue are intriguing. The problem is that screenwriter Ni Kuang tries to do the impossible — boil down a 1000 page novel into a 90 minute film. The filmmakers should have made a two hour film or not attempted the adaptation at all.

That said, the sets and costumes are terrific and the martial arts battles are plentiful and engaging. But it just isn’t enough to make Clans Of Intrigue a success.

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