Monday, January 4, 2016

A Deadly Secret (1980)

Based on Chin Yung's book, this movie version is not as good as the book. The book, although it's not as thick as Chin Yung's best works, was captivating and I almost couldn't put it down. It was about the story of a swordsman named Ti Yuen (Tik Hun), who was honest and ignorant, who lived in a village with his teacher Jik Tiang-hoat and his teacher's daughter, Jik Hong. As they grew together, it could be hoped that Tik Hun would marry Jik Hong in the future.

One day, Jik Tiang-hoat's martial brother, Ban Chin-san, who lived in the city, invited them for his birthday party. Ban Chin-san had eight students. They saw how beautiful Jik Hong was, and thought that she should not waste her time with the stupid Tik Hun. That night, Jik Tiang-hoat went missing after attacking Ban Chin-san - they fought over a sword lesson book called Soh-sin-kiam; and Tik Hun found himself thrown in jail with a false accusation and his fighting skill had been destroyed. Months later he heard a news that Jik Hong had married Ban Chin-san's son. [In the movie, Jik Tiang-hoat's relationship with his two martial brothers was better than in the book. The three gathered together to get the secret.]

The movie version began with Tik Hun being thrown in jail and met his strange cellmate, Ting Hian. Once every month, Ting Hian would be taken out to be tortured. We could guess that they wanted him to reveal a secret. Thus the title: Ting Hian possessed a secret so deadly it could make him dead. After Tik Hun trying to commit suicide in jail  (being heart-broken because Jik Hong married another man), Ting Hian believed that he was not a spy and these two became friends. Tik Hun spent 5 years in jail.

Ting Hian (Pai Piao) and Tik Hun (Wu Yuan-chun)
Ting Hian's girlfriend was the daughter of Magistrate Leng. It was his girlfriend's father who threw him in jail. Magistrate Leng believed that Ting Hian was the only person who held the key to the treasure of late Emperor Yuan of Liang Dinasty.

At this point I was confused: Jik Tiang-hoat and his martial brothers, were they after the sword lesson book or the lost treasure? In the movie, Jik Tiang-hoat put his own student Tik Hun in jail, hoping that Tik Hun could befriend Ting Hian and get the secret. [In the book, it was Ban Chin-san's son and students who put Tik Hun in jail.]

From his cell-window, Ting Hian could see Miss Leng's window where she put a pot of fresh flowers everyday. Both Miss Leng and Ting Hian loved flowers [they met at a flower exhibition]. One day, Ting Hian saw that she hadn't changed the pot anymore and realized that she had been dead. He asked Tik Hun to go out with him, went to the Magistrate Leng's house and found Miss Leng's coffin. The coffin had been laced with poison and because Ting Hian touched the coffin, he died. He didn't even have time to tell the secret to Tik Hun.

Yueh Hua as Magistrate Leng
As Tik Hun had promised to bury Ting Hian and Miss Leng together, he dug Miss Leng's grave and found that she had written the secret on the inside of coffin's lid. In the book, the secret was a key code: there were numbers to unlock the hidden code in sword lesson's book - it was actually a poetry book by a poet from Tang Dinasty. Ting Hian and Miss Leng knew the numbers by heart; but in the movie the numbers had been changed into several lines of poetry - which was much easier to remember.

The treasure was found, but it was not a happy ending. I don't really understand why all those swordsmen in this story wanted the treasure, just like I don't get why people in the Heaven Sword and Dragon Sabre story wanted the sabre. This is typical Chin Yung's stories.

I think the movie is not a good adaptation. As it begins when Tik Hun being thrown in jail, it lacks the tragic atmosphere of the ruined relationship between Tik Hun and Jik Hong. I recommend the book as the adventure of Tik Hun would continue to how he meet another girl, how he has been slandered as a rapist and how with his big heart he can win the girl and sort his misunderstanding with Jik Hong. Also, in the movie, most of it was the jail scenes, and it was not very interesting to watch two dirty men in a dark cell.

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