The Golden Seal [金印仇] (1971)
Starring Chung Wa, Wang Ping, Ku Feng, Yue Fung, Baak Liu, Chan Shen, Wong Ching Ho, Cliff Lok Kam Tung, Teresa Ha Ping, Fang Mian
Directed by Tien Feng
If you’re a fan of the 1960s output of the Shaw Studios, and you’re looking for a later film with the same ideals and only slightly better fights, then look no further than The Golden Seal! Directed by veteran Shaw character actor Tien Feng, The Golden Seal is something of a throwback wuxia film that does as many things right as it does wrong. It’s still largely entertaining and enjoyable, it’s just that at this point in the Shaw series, films like this stand out as being much worse because of the films surrounding them. If this were made even a couple of years earlier, it would’ve been far more impressive.
The Golden Seal is not exactly about a golden seal like you might expect (and that’s an official seal for documents and such, not the animal that barks and balances things on their noses when humans throw them fish). It does kick itself off with the seal, though, as it is entrusted to its owner’s brother who is tasked with taking it and his nephew out of harm’s way. But that exact moment is when the devious Lei Zhentian (Ku Feng) busts in and starts tearin’ up the place, so the uncle and the boy sneak away in a cart. During the opening credits, said cart is driven off a dangerous cliff, but don’t worry, our heroic duo is safe. One cut later and 20 years have passed, with the boy all grown up (now played by Chung Wa) and just finishing his martial arts study under the grand tutelage of Tien Feng in a much-too-small cameo.
From here, the film takes on the revenge angle that you’d expect, with Chung Wa seeking vengeance for the evils done by Ku Feng, but as this is a throwback to the 1960s wuxias, The Golden Seal is actually more about the swordswomen than his heroic journey. Not before an old school martial arts traveling song, though, where the character sings (in his mind, presumably) about his trepidations in setting out on his perilous journey. I got tired of these songs during my run through the older films, but I have to admit it made me smile here. Time really is the great healer. Anyway, along the way he meets up with four women who are far more interesting than he is, and they really spice the movie up.
First, there’s Wu Xiao Yan (Wang Ping) who fills the standard heroic female role. She wants to help, but her position leaves her stuck between a rock and a hard place. Next is Feng Jing Yi (Yue Fung), an assassin Chung Wa runs into when he’s traversing rooftops at night in his own attempt to assassinate Ku Feng. She’s a little bland as a character, but she gets some good story beats later on that rectify that a bit. There’s also Feng’s disfigured mother, Feng Hui Ming (Teresa Ha Ping), who doesn’t get much to do, but ends up having a great role to play in the final battle, as well as a great backstory. And last, but certainly not least, we have Ms. Shi (Baak Liu). Ms. Shi is basically the reason why this movie is memorable, because Ms. Shi is a cavegirl.
Maybe I just have an unhealthy obsession with cave-dwelling people, but as soon as I saw that she was a cavegirl I sat bolt-upright and couldn’t believe my eyes. In wuxia films there’s a lot of hermitage and cave-dwelling masters and such, but Ms. Shi is a straight-up cavegirl, complete with loin clothes, a dirty face and expert hunting skills. It was so unexpected! A fair amount of the movie also takes place within her cave, and when Wu Xiao Yan and Feng Jing Yi all end up there, we’re treated to a fun, dimly-lit cave fight! I’m unsure if there had been previous cave-dwellers like this in Hong Kong cinema, but this is definitely the first I’ve seen in the Shaw wuxia films.
Speaking of the fights, they’re either fun and exciting or extremely lackluster. Many of the fights are sped up unnaturally, a common trick in old school martial arts films, but some of the fights in The Golden Seal look like the film is stuck on fast forward, or perhaps that I’m watching something intentionally going for martial comedy. But it’s clearly not played for laughs, so it just comes off as an odd choice, especially because the choreography is rather well-done. Handled by Leung Siu-Chung (Bruce Leung’s dad), the movements are inventive and the fights frequently feature a variety of crazy weapons. The other major strike against The Golden Seal‘s fights is the obvious usage of stunt doubles, specifically male doubles for the female fighters. Nearly every Shaw film does this, but it’s incredibly easy to spot here, with broad-shouldered men in badly matched wigs making sure not to turn their faces toward the camera. It’s not something that usually bothers me, but it just felt so poorly pulled off that I had to mention it.
The film’s finale, featuring all of the heroes coming together against Ku Feng, is pretty dope, though. It’s not enough to erase the film’s flaws, and it’s not enough to make me love this movie, but it was easily the highlight of the film (along with the inclusion of previously mentioned cavegirl). Ku Feng is always good for a great villain, and here he gives all five heroes a real fight to the finish.
The Golden Seal is one to watch if you’ve exhausted the more popular early wuxia options and you’re looking to branch out. It’s not a bad film by any means, and Tien Feng directs the film pretty well, but it just pales in comparison to other Shaw films from this era. But like I said earlier, if you dig the 1960s-style wuxia, then definitely watch The Golden Seal as that is where its roots lie.
Next up in this chronological jaunt through the Shaw Brothers Martial Arts catalog is the wuxia film The Crimson Charm from director Huang Feng! Feng was one of the guys that defected to Golden Harvest at its creation, but I guess he still had one in the chamber for the Shaw Brothers. Over at GH he made a bunch of Angelo Mao movies, including fan-favorite Hapkido, so I’m hoping The Crimson Charm is a good one!