In this regular feature series on the best of Hong Kong martial arts cinema, we examine the legacy of classic films, re-evaluate the careers of its greatest stars, and revisit some of the lesser-known aspects of the beloved genre.
Fantasy martial arts films were popular in the early 1990s, and Brigitte Lin Ching-hsia was the undisputed queen of the genre, sometimes working on two or three films at once.
The Bride with White Hair (1993), directed by Ronny Yu Yan-tai, shows her in fine form, slicing adversaries in half with a whip and throttling them to death with her long tresses of hair.
The film is nominally based on a 1950s wuxia story by Liang Yusheng, and features Lin as a vicious martial artist who has been trained by a malicious cult to wipe out an alliance of local clans.
Problems arise when Lin's character Lian falls in love with the clans' master swordsman, played by Leslie Cheung Kwok-wing. When the romance goes wrong, her black hair turns to white, and she goes berserk.
Taiwan-born Lin did not know martial arts, but the veteran actress could pose majestically, and brought two decades of experience playing dramatic roles to the part.
The martial arts scenes - which involve a lot of wire work - were choreographed by Philip Kwok Chun-fung, who had choreographed the influential A Chinese Ghost Story among many others.
The frosty cinematography came courtesy of Peter Pau Tak-hai, who later shot Ang Lee's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.
Below is an extract from an interview by this writer on the set of the film's sequel, The Bride with White Hair 2, in 1993.
There are a lot of close-ups of your eyes in The Bride with White Hair - why is that?
Brigitte Lin: People say that my eyes are like a sharp knife and directors like to emphasise them. But these days, I am always afraid the close-ups are going to show my wrinkles.
What happens to your character Lian in The Bride with White Hair sequel?
BL: I act like a Tyrannosaurus rex in this one. Losing my love has turned me into a monster and made me ruthless. I turn to the dark side and become even more cold-blooded.
You bring a real dramatic intensity to your roles in martial arts films. But you seem very laid back - you've been joking around all through the interview. Where does that intensity come from?
BL: I get very involved in the characters that I play, and I inject a lot of life into them. When I'm filming, sometimes, for a split second, it's difficult to know whether I'm playing a character or whether it's the real me.
But sometimes it's the other way around. I have played these strong characters for the past two years, and I take that attitude with me when I am off camera. The characters I play also seem to affect how people treat me off camera, which is interesting.
You've killed people in multiple ways on screen. The murderous needle and thread in The East is Red was particularly memorable. How do you feel about the violence in your films?
BL: Personally, I hate violence. But audiences love it, and producers say audiences love to see me being violent. That's especially true in Korea, where the distributors say the more men I kill, the better the film does at the box office. I seem to embody some kind of fantasy about a beautiful woman performing violent acts.
Is that just a male fantasy? After all, you play a hermaphrodite in the Swordsman film series…
BL: Actually, it's not. Around half my fans are women. It reflects the fact that women are gradually becoming stronger in real life, I think. Lesbians can see their strong and protective side in me, too, and I even have a gay male following.
Is it true that you are planning to give up making films forever?
BL: I am planning to take a long rest soon. But "forever" is a long time, so I wouldn't use that word myself.
Lin's last major appearance in a film came a year after this interview, in Wong Kar-wai's film Ashes of Time.