Hong Kong Cinema

Killer Clans

  • Made: 1976
  • Format: DVD
  • Region: 3 NTSC
  • Release Date: December 2002
  • Company: Celestial
  • Length: 100 mins
  • Picture: Widescreen 2.35:1
  • Language: Subtitled / Mandarin language
  • Extras: Audio Commentary by Bey Logan; Behind The Scenes; Interviews; Trailers; Color Stills; Original Poster; Production Notes; Cast/Crew Information
  • Classification: IIB


Chor Yuen


Chung Wa, Chan Ping, Ku Feng, Norman Chu, Yueh Hua, Danny Lee Sau-Yin, Lo Lieh, Fan Mei Sheng, Ching Li, Cheng Miu, Wong Chung, Yeung Chi Hing

Killer Clans was released in 1976, a year that proved very productive for director Chor Yuen and many of his cast. Chor Yuen used a similar cast in the same year for his weapons-packed Magic Blade, including Ching Li, Ku Feng, Fan Mei Sheng and Lo Lieh. Killer Clans took HK $1,596,000 during its two week cinematic release and was one of Shaw's most successful films that year. Killer Clans involved a large cast with a classic Shaw Brothers set. The Celestial release provides the rich colours that displays the costumes and scenery in their full splendor. The central characters are played by Yueh Hua (Come Drink With Me), Chung Wa and the veteran Ku Feng (Avenging Eagle). A few eyebrows will be raised by the performance of Danny Lee Sau-Yin who plays the killer Hsiao Tieh, the man synonymous with John Woo's 1989 classic; The Killer.


Killer Clans starts off rather sluggishly for a Shaw Brothers movie. The opening seems a bit sedate when compared to the likes of Chang Cheh. This is partly due to Killer Clans being adapted from a Ku Lung wuxia novel; Meteor, Butterfly, Sword. The novel was also adapted with mixed results for Butterfly and Sword (1993) with Tony Leung and Michelle Yeoh. This is one of several Ku Lung novels that Chor Yuen adapted along with the big hit Clans of Intrigue, plus Magic Blade and Death Duel.

Chor Yuen's adaptation is more romantic than the standard Shaw affair, and includes some light nudity. It becomes clear that this is not for titilation but rather to help explore the lead characters. It turns out that the two assassins; Tsung Hua and Danny Lee, are in love with the same woman (the beautiful Ching Li) who is the daughter of the man they are being paid to assasinate, Uncle Sun Yu (Ku Feng). Things start to get perilous for Uncle as his son and bodyguard (Lo Lieh) are murdered. In fact, everyone in this film wants to kill Uncle, that is the plot.


The film is a slow starter, there is no doubt, and there is little to get excited about in the first half hour. We get to see Lo Lieh take down a few anonymous henchmen early on, but Lo Lieh is killed off at an early stage which will naturally disappoint fans such as myself. However, even though this film is guilty of starting slowly, it builds up momentum and the last section of the film is bloody, suspense ridden and exciting. This does not excuse the film for all of its faults but it definitely finishes on a high.

The strength of this film lies in all the traps, secret weapons and twists that provide the rollercoaster finale. It seems that Uncle's days are numbered as the enemy closes in for the kill. Then it is revealed that Uncle has actually out-thought his opponents and been laying the traps himself. Uncle relies on his truly loyal servants, including Fan Mei Sheng (the fat fool of kung fu) and in the end the hunter becomes the hunted. The twists are clever and the action is even-paced. One highlight includes Uncle escaping in his hidden underground canal by his servant who has been waiting there for him for fifteen years! The canal also emphasises the superb Shaw set that is matched by Chor Yuen's patient and indulgent direction.


The is from the first batch of Celestial releases and is packed with extras. The current releases have been criticised for not being anamorphic transfers and for being DD 5.1. Neither of these are massive issues for me and I am more than delighted with the rich colours and definition on these new Celestial transfers. The extras include a Bey Logan commentary, stills, poster, filmographies, production notes, trailers (no subtitles) and interviews. These interviews are particularly annoying as they do not have any English subtitles, they are useless for the English speaking auidence. However, to Celestial's credit this has been rectified on subsequent releases.


I think this film deserves credit for being a sound wuxia film which tries to look beyond an inflated body count for entertainment and substance. These early releases from Celestial will certainly help people understand that there is more to Shaw than the Chang Cheh / Liu Chia Liang dichotomy. The set and the costume benefit greatly from this remastered version, which supports capable performances from all the central characters. The fighting is reasonably orthodox old school wuxia weapons play but there are enough twists and turns to delight the discerning martia arts enthusiast.