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When a young boy sees a swordsman challenging Lu, the King of
Swords, who is dressed all black & always keeps his face
covered, but sees that man killed by Lu & his wife committing suicide
right on the spot, he is deeply impressed, setting himself only one goal
in life: to one day beat Lu in fight, uncover his face become King
of Swords himself.
He trains for years to become a great swordsman,
Nameless (Ti Lung), & kills many another swordsman (or -woman for
that matter) - but he is always haunted by the image of the woman who
killed herself at Lu's place when he was a kid. So when his only friend,
healer Chiu (Ku Feng) takes him to a brothel one day, he is less
interested in the prostitutes but more in a storevendor, Ho Lien (Lin
Chen-chi), who he spots from the brothel's window & who is a
spitting image of the suicidal woman from his childhood. But
unfortunately, fellow but inferior swordsman Yien has also designs on
her, so Nameless has to beat him in order to get to Ho-lien, who he then
takes with him, & beds against her will.
she does indeed fall in love with him & tries to persuade him to
forget about his duel with Lu - which of course he can't.
makes an attempt at Nameless' life, but fails & is only saved
by Ho-lien's timely intervention. Healer Chiu in the meantime tries to
persuade Nameless to forget about the duel since his mind is filled with
the love for Ho-lien, which would be a grave disadvantage in battle, so
Nameless does the only sensible thing (well, in his mind, anyway) &
kills Ho-lien (!!!).
In the duel between Lu & Nameless, which follows
almost immediately, Nameless manages to unmask Lu who turns out to be
none other than healer Chiu, & because Chiu has a certain fondness
for Nameless, Nameless has all the advantages he needs to beat & kill
his adversary & become King of Swords.
It is only then, with friend
& girl killed by his hand, that he realizes how bitter his triumph
is, & he leaves the scene disillusioned - but upon arriving back
home, he is caught off-guard by Yien, who has secured the services of
superior swordswoman Lady of 3 Moves, & they both violently
attack him. Nameless does manage to kill them both, but at the cost of
his own life.
Very bleak vision of the martial arts world
- where titles & victories count more than friendship, even love, to
a point when the guy initially presented as hero does kill his girl
& his only friend just to win a duel -, that draws a very dark picture of
this world even within genre conventions. Fleshed out characters, good
action & careful (if conventional) direction help considerably to
bring that point across.