Night Orchid (1982)

Directed by: Cheung Paang-Yue
Written by: Gu Long
Producer: Chow Ling-Kan
Starring: Adam Cheng, Brigitte Lin, Fung Hak-On, Lu I-Chan, Alan Chui & Don Wong


Initially starting to review Ulysses Au's Be Careful Sweetheart, a terrific Wuxia from 1984 from one of the figures of Taiwan's new wave of the late 70s/early 80s (Au was the director of The First Error Step, The Country Of Beauties aka Island Warriors among other things), us being thrown right into the middle of a story was a feeling that made sense as Adam Cheng's and Brigitte Lin's characters were about to be executed for their romance within the Yin Feng clan. Due to the fact that it was in fact SAID to be a sequel and Cheung Paang-Yue's (Shaolin Kung Fu Mystagogue, Clan Feuds) entry we'd be tackling first therefore. So taking a journey to this review via another screening Night Orchid actually has nothing to do with Be Careful Sweetheart aside from the fact that genre imagination and grandeur runs through both, anchored by fine cinematic, dual imagery in the form of Adam Cheng and Brigitte Lin.

Forces in the martial arts world are after the Jade Horse and amidst quiet streets and landscapes, bloodshed starts becoming a factor. Luring out famed swordsman Chu Liu Hsian (Adam Cheng) out of hiding, he reveals the sought after Jade Horse is a fake. Priorities change though as roaming the (mid)night is the killer Night Orchid and Chu and companions naturally are drawn to the evil, with perverted Miss Lan (Lu I-Chan) as a prime suspect. Amidst this, Chu saves Su Su (Brigitte Lin) from being sacrificed in a ritual and their connection grows stronger during a very dangerous time in the world...

Scripted by famed novelist of Wuxia stories Gu Long (whose work has been made into numerous movies including Chor Yuen's Clans Of Intrigue and Michael Mak's wild Butterfly & Sword), if you go by rumours out there for movie adaptations of the man's work, there seems to be nothing wrong with the imagination but storytelling often remains a complex web of mysteries and twists. Perhaps it's an advantage that Gu Long is writing directly for the screen then because matters are refreshingly clear in Night Orchid. In fact that's a minor lie, the movie is a mystery that hinges on (a fairly early) reveal of the killer but via atmosphere, design and simply put skill, director Cheung Paang-Yue quite confidently conveys the mystery.

An imaginative, atmospheric mystery that is, the film definitely feels like it wants to play in the higher leagues with rapid fire editing, out of this world (because why wouldn't they be) design choices and atmosphere. The martial arts world at night is a quiet, foreboding, gory and mysterious world (the appearance of a blind swordsman seemingly not feeling pain represents this the best) and us being launched into unknown plans is a treat. Easy to feel there's a confidence present here, a steering force that will drive us safe and secure through treacherous terrain.

So those elements are a star in itself, that then bleeds into action directors (and cast members) Alan Chui and Fung Hak-On delivering some stunning imagination together with Gu Long and Cheung Paang-Yue. The whole affair is extremely fluid from a swordplay standpoint but Wuxia style sights such as a ninja exploding out of a woman's womb, tree walking, fighters turning into paper figures that can slip under doors, half men/animal fighters etc are inspiring. Add to that a few superbly designed sets such as Miss Lan's smokey and colourful sex-cave and the finale set in an unpredictable underground with an acid bath and you got yourself a continual stream of creativity.

There is humanity to be found, even if it's slighter than the visual fireworks. The Adam Cheng/Brigitte Lin romance takes on a little bit more weight by the hour mark and Cheng's Chu even expresses doubts about living based on past hurt. A dent in the armour of a legendary swordsman. It's perfectly suitable string to connect all story strands but it's the weaker aspect of Night Orchid (as is the subplot involving one of Chu's men unexpectedly befriending Fung Hak-On's swordsman). Weaker aspects aside, Night Orchid is a dizzying spectacle of swordplay, design and almost acid-fueled imagination where it seems the forces Gu Long and Cheung Paang-Yue was a match made in heaven. Next to classics like Ding Sin-Saai's The Ghost Hill, Night Orchid is THE reason to look to Taiwan for more ways to blow your mind.


reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson