"Not even the Heaven Sword and Dragon Sabre can disentangle love and hate!" croons theme song guy. Indeed. After a head-spinning recap of events in part one of this grandiose Jin Yong a.k.a. Louis Cha wu xia fantasy from Shaw Brothers maestro Chu Yuan, we rejoin righteous hero Chang Wu Ji (Derek Yee) who needs an antidote to save six clans poisoned by a mysterious villain. Enigmatic sword maiden Princess Chiu Ming (Ching Li) promises to lend him the cure but in return he must grant her three favours. First, Chang Wu Ji must lead her to the elusive Dragon Sabre, second of the titular long sought after super-weapons (our hero wields the first) held by his uncle, Golden Hair Lion Tse Shun (Lo Lieh), who is also hunted by the six clans for crimes committed under the influence of evildoer Shing Kwun (Tin Ching), now disguised as the Buddhist monk Yuen Jun. Got all that?
Helping Chiu Ming land the Dragon Sabre does not endear Chang Wu Ji to the other clans, but the second favour really throws his life in disarray. Chiu Ming orders him to spurn his beloved Chou Chi Yeuk (Candice Yu) at the wedding altar, leaving the six clans in shock and his sweetheart swearing she'll have nothing more to do with him. Instead, Chi Yeuk shacks up with scheming swordsman Sung Ching Shu (Goo Goon-Chung), who has had his beady eye on her for quite some time. She also swears to retrieve the Dragon Sabre for her all-female Er Mei Clan, having sworn a secret oath to bitchy Abbess Mie Jiue (Wang Lai) upon succeeding her as leader. Things keep getting worse for Chang Wu Ji on his search for the Dragon Sabre, as Persian assassins (including future Shaw superstar Kara Hui Ying-Hung) claim the life of his friend Yang Bu Hei (Chan Ga-Yee) and his adorable cousin Yan Li (Candy Wen Xue-Er) seemingly succumbs to a mystery murderer. Chang Wu Ji and his Ming Clan friends are out to stop an evil prince from wielding the two super-weapons, but their efforts are hindered by the duplicitious Sung Ching Shu and Chou Chi Yeuk, who has mysteriously mastered the mystical art of Jiu Yin kung fu - the only force able to withstand our hero's Jiu Yang style. Yin and Yang, get it? Help arrives in the form of a mysterious (lot of mystery in this movie) pink ninja and an equally enigmatic masked superheroine whose amazing kung fu gets Chang Wu Ji out of many a jam. Could she and the pink ninja be one and the same? And if so, who the heck is she? It all ends in with a grand martial arts tournament where the six clans fight for the right to kill Tse Shun and wield the Dragon Sabre.
By far the biggest problem with the first Heaven Sword and Dragon Sabre film was the sheer speed with which Chu Yuan romped through the story, attempting to cram every aspect of Louis Cha's labyrinthine source material into just over ninety minutes. The end result was audacious at times, but also infuriating. Having got most of the back-story out of the way, part two does a better job mixing exposition with action and actually weaves a genuinely profound and beautiful story. The serial-like structure races from one hair-raising incident after another, including some elaborate action scenes and spectacular set-pieces such as the Six Clans' escape from a towering inferno. However, in the midst of the usual surreal fantasy, the plot emphasises themes like forgiveness, karma, atonement and the healing of old feuds. Although the film builds to fantastic finale wherein four heroes - Chang Wu Ji, Princess Chiu Ming, Chou Chi Yeuk, and the masked heroine - combine their powers against four tree-dwelling, silver-haired Shaolin monks, in time honoured martial arts movie fashion, more significant is the fact two key characters (including one shock semi-villain) don't fall to the sword. Instead, they repent their wrongdoings and take up holy orders, in a unique and quite touching climax. By contrast, filial loyalty, that most feted of Chinese values, as embodied in the relationship between Chou Chi Yeuk and her twisted elder Abbess Mie Jiue, brings the Martial World to the brink of destruction. Wu xia novelists routinely smuggled subversive messages into their works and Louis Cha is seemingly imploring young people to rely on their own moral compass and think for themselves.
Naturally, for a Shaw Brothers/Chu Yuan production, the film looks fantastic with sumptuous sets bathed in lush candy colours, plus a cast full of handsome heroes and stunning starlets clad in impeccable costumes. Unlike the later spoof version of the same story, Kung Fu Cult Master (1993), this has a definitive ending although Chu Yuan was not quite finished with the world of Heaven Sword and Dragon Sabre and returned with a third sequel: The Hidden Power of Dragon Sabre (1984).