Monday, April 27, 2015

The Legend of Chu Liu Siang - Gu Long

I read the 4th and 5th books from this series in the middle of 1980's.

The 4th story, The Love Story of A Ghost and A Swordsman, was so-so; perhaps because I happened
to have just finished Alexandre Dumas' The Count of Monte Cristo, where there was a similar scene of a young girl pretended to be dead so she could be together with her boyfriend - because both families were enemies.

The fifth book, Legend of the Bat, was extra-ordinary. I was impressed with the plot, though some parts did scare me. The darkness described in the story was very frightening. A group of swordsmen went to a mysterious island to buy secrets. Only selected inviteés could go to this land. As our hero and his friends were not invited, there were a series of murders happened during the trip. To find the murderer was surely not difficult - like in Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None, wasn't it? It was nothing compared to what happened to the survivors once they landed in the mysterious land.

Khu Lung, the writer of this legend had a big name at that time and I had imagined that he (and Chin Yung - another well-known writer) lived in Genghis Khan or Shakespeare's era because his works were classic. Recently I found out that Khu Lung born in the same year as one of my uncles, and that he was 30 years old when he wrote the first book of Chu Liu Siang in 1968. [The fifth book was written in 1971.]

Coh Liu-hiang (the name of the hero in Hokkien dialect), known as 'The Romantic Thief', was some kind of Robin Hood - stole from the rich to help the poor. However, this was only an introduction, like Hergé's Tintin, a reporter who never wrote articles.

Coh Liu-hiang had this sickness since he was a kid, perhaps sinusitis, which had made him difficult to breath. So he learned a way to breathe using his pores. Because he was never out of breath like everybody else, his ginkang [=a skill to make the body defies gravity] was unmatched. His nose was like a useless ornament on his face and this was also a blessing because anyone could not poison him by air. Since his nose was useless, to compensate, his eyes and ears were sharp.

He was clever and smart, loved danger, and liked to be involved in others' business; so if someone plotted evil schemes, it was their bad luck if Coh Liu-hiang got himself involved. Although his enemies were afraid of him, they knew he never killed.

He lived in a boat with three beautiful girls who had followed him for years and he considered them as his sisters. He also had a best friend from childhood, Oh Thi-hoa, who liked to drink wine. If Coh Liu-hiang was a flower, Oh Thi-hoa was its butterfly: they were almost together all the time. In the movies, Coh Liu-hiang used a fan for his weapon, although he used it to defend - not to attack. In the books, he carried no weapon. He usually fought with empty hands or used nearby objects. Whereever he went, he only carried money, a bottle of perfume and a disguise kit.

A few days ago I was able to found the first 3 books, and again, I was reminded of how very good Khu Lung's works were. These series combined detective work, friendship, and adventure.

First book, Lingering Fragrance in the Sea of Blood, told about Coh Liu-hiang investigated the death of great swordsmen. Their dead bodies were carried by the waves to his boat. The readers were introduced to Coh Liu-hiang's skill of disguise, so that not many people knew his real face. If he went out with his real handsome face, it would have attracted too many attention. In this book, he saved the Beggars' Clan from a very evil mischief. The title of this book 'Lingering Fragrance' - I read somewhere that it was the meaning of Liu-hiang. He wore perfume, for one of his greatest fear was bad body odour. He smelled like a tulip.

Second book, The Great Desert, made me unable to put it down. Coh Liu-hiang believed that a swordman named 'Black Pearl', whom he met in book one, had kidnapped his three girl friends. As Black Pearl's origin was from the desert, with Oh Thi-hoa and his other old friend, Ki Ping-yan, Coh Liu-hiang went to the desert. Here they met a king who had been forced out from his country by rebels. Coh Liu-hiang's great enemy in this book was a very beautiful lady, Ciok Koan-im. Ciok Koan-im was ruthless like Snow White's step-mother; she had to become the most beautiful woman. She had this magic mirror who could tell her who was the most beautiful. If she found someone who was more beautiful than her, she would kill the woman or force her to ruin her face. The magic mirror also echoed the painting of Dorian Gray.

Third book, The Trush. Legendary swordsmen wanted Coh Liu-hiang's head, although he never had had any conflict with any of them. Only with tactics he could save his life. Later, to help a poor woman, Coh Liu-hiang went to a dangerous place - men were not allowed to enter - whose owner also wanted his life. In book one, a poisonous water had been stolen from this place and the number one suspect was of course Coh Liu-hiang. He had been given one month to clear his name, but with all those going on, he had been forgotten. The mistress of this sacred place, Im Ki, was Ciok Koan-im's greatest fear. This book was the best from all three.

Book 1, 2 and 3 must be read in order and in one unison - they are usually sold in one bundle. However, only in book 4 Coh Liu-hiang could uncover the mysterious hand who led a series of hitmen.

Khu Lung wrote 3 more books of Coh Liu-hiang, but I think they were not as good as the first five, perhaps due to the quality of the translation. Not much of the detective aspect as well and the names suddenly using many of the letters of q, x, and z.

I really enjoyed reading these 5 books and thought they were very very good. However, according to those who have read many Khu Lung's works, the legend of Chu Liu Siang is not the best of the lot.