The Jade Faced Assassin (1971)

JadeFacedAssassin+1971-38-bThe Jade Faced Assassin [玉面俠] (1971)
AKA And the Twain Shall Meet

Starring Lily Ho Li Li, Kao Yuen, Ku Feng, Fan Mei-Sheng, Cheung Pooi-Saan, Violet Pan Ying-Zi, Irene Chen Yi-Ling, Essie Lin Chia, Chai No, Yen Chun

Directed by Yen Chun

Expectations: Moderate. The Iron Buddha was a lot of fun.

twohalfstar


The Jade Faced Assassin is a movie that knows exactly what it is. It doesn’t try to pretend like it’s an action film, it instead trades solely in wuxia betrayals and convoluted story beats. The Jade Faced Assassin is wuxia in the old tradition, except where a lot of those older films were clumsily told and altogether boring, The Jade Faced Assassin is pretty fun if you dig what it’s selling. That could probably be said for most movies, but I feel it’s especially true when we’re dealing with old school wuxia and a Western audience. You simply must know what you’re getting yourself into.

Anyway, The Jade Faced Assassin tells a pretty standard tale of martial intrigue, this time involving yet another stolen martial arts manual and a pair of infant twins separated and raised by competing clans. Our hero, Lily Ho, was cared for by the heroic Ku Feng, but he was assaulted and injured badly in the bandit infested “Happy Town.” The bandits raised Lily Ho as their own, teaching her every technique they knew, trying to create something of an über bandit. But their plan backfires as she’s simply not cut out for the bandit lifestyle, so when she’s of age she leaves in search of vengeance for her murdered parents. Along the way she meets up with a number of colorful characters (as is to be expected in a wuxia film), and has a rollicking, fun adventure.

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A Taste of Cold Steel (1970)

A Taste of Cold Steel [武林風雲] (1970)

Starring Chang Yi, Yau Ching, Essie Lin Chia, Shu Pei-Pei, Chen Hung Lieh, Wong Chung-Shun, Ku Feng, Wu Ma, Hung Lau, Simon Chui Yee-Ang, Fang Mian, Lee Kwan, Wang Hsieh, Lee Wan Chung, James Tin Jun

Directed by Griffin Yueh Feng

Expectations: Moderate. I like Yueh Feng, but the last movie was disappointing.


A Taste of Cold Steel is, like its title suggests, about an amazing sword that everyone wants to get their hands on. As soon as they see the radiant purple glow that emanates from it, they will stop at nothing to have it. It’s a slight variation on the theme of the martial world fighting over a world-class sword, but A Taste of Cold Steel sets itself apart in a couple of interesting ways.

First, the blade actually glows purple every time it’s unsheathed on-screen. People’s faces and everything around them glows marvelously purple; this is definitely a candidate for Prince’s favorite martial arts film (if he engages in such primal pleasures as this). It looks to have been achieved with a spotlight carefully highlighting the sword, but most of the time you can’t really tell and it looks quite fantastic and realistic.

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Swordswomen Three (1970)

Swordswomen Three [江湖三女俠] (1970)

Starring Essie Lin Chia, Shen Yi, Lo Lieh, Chang Yi, Violet Pan Ying-Zi, Wong Chung-Shun, Fang Mian, Liu Wai, Yeung Chi Hing, Lee Wan Chung, Tsang Choh-Lam, Hao Li-Jen, Suen Lam, Lee Siu-Chung

Directed by Shen Chiang

Expectations: High. The Winged Tiger was super fun.


While Swordswomen Three starts off with a lot of promise, it never successfully tells a compelling story or delivers the action thrills you’re expecting. This was Shen Chiang’s third film (and second martial arts film), but it’s riddled with all kinds of horrible storytelling and editing, making portions of the story nearly unintelligible. I’m somewhat prone to missing things in movies if I’m not entirely engaged, but there was one section of this movie that I literally rewound about five times and still didn’t have a clear understanding of what happened. The only answer is that it’s just poorly made, and in this specific case, it was mostly the editing that confused me.

Swordwomen Three tries to tell the story of two battling martial arts clans, one with the title of the Number One Clan from a recent tournament held every decade, and the other led by an upstart Lo Lieh who will stop at nothing to take the title from the other clan. He doesn’t want to wait till the next tournament because he doesn’t need to, he’ll just murder the other clan and everyone will obviously know he’s the best. Standing in his way, though, are the three swordswomen sisters of the title (played by Essie Lin Chia, Shen Yi and Violet Pan Ying-Zi). Also on the side of good is Chang Yi, the son of the master of the leading martial clan, and friend to the swordswomen.

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Return of the One-Armed Swordsman (1969)

Return of the One-Armed Swordsman [獨臂刀王] (1969)
AKA One-Armed Swordsman Return, Le Bras de la vengeance

Starring Jimmy Wang Yu, Lisa Chiao Chiao, Essie Lin Chia, Chung Wa, Cheng Lui, Hoh Ban, Tien Feng, Ku Feng, Tung Li, Tang Chia, Lau Kar Wing, Lau Kar-Leung, Yuen Cheung Yan, Ti Lung, Wang Kuang-Yu, Wu Ma, Fong Yau

Directed by Chang Cheh

Expectations: High!


With the original One-Armed Swordsman in 1967, Chang Cheh re-defined what the martial arts film genre was and would be. Over the next two years, countless other films sought to capture audiences as Chang’s film had, but few other directors were able to harness the sheer energy on display in a Chang Cheh film. With Return of the One-Armed Swordsman, Chang doesn’t look to create a direct sequel, or one that feels in any way similar to the original. Instead he goes a completely different and incredibly over-the-top direction, resulting in one of the most fun martial arts pictures of the early Shaw Brothers era, and one that would again help re-define the genre.

The story opens with the one-armed swordsman Fang Gang (Jimmy Wang Yu) being invited to participate in a tournament held by the self-proclaimed Eight Sword Kings. He’s trying to leave the martial lifestyle behind him and live out the rest of his days with his lovely wife as a farmer, but we all know how that works out in films such as this. Master Fang is later visited by a group of swordsman seeking his help, as they know the so-called tournament is just a ruse to call all the sword clans together so that the Eight Sword Kings can murder the masters and take control of the region by force. Where your martial arts soaked 2012 brain might expect something of a tournament film after this setup, instead we receive something closer to a journey film where our heroes are sequentially ambushed and assaulted at every turn on their way to the “tournament.”

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The Singing Thief (1969)

The Singing Thief [大盜歌王] (1969)

Starring Jimmy Lin Chung, Lily Ho Li Li, Lo Lieh, Essie Lin Chia, Mui Yan, Chu Gam, Yee Kwan, Nam Wai-Lit, Man Lei, Au-Yeung Gwong, Yip Dung-Ching

Directed by Chang Cheh

Expectations: I really don’t know what to expect. Not much.


Well, this one certainly blew whatever expectations I had out of the water! Having taken wuxia to the highest heights he thought it could reach at the time with his previous film Golden Swallow, Chang Cheh sought to liberate himself from the standard Shaw Brothers cycle of constantly making wuxia pictures one after another. Instead he turned his attention to musicals of all things, and the resulting effort is The Singing Thief. Don’t be fooled by the title though, it’s not really a musical in the traditional sense.

The story of The Singing Thief revolves around Diamond Poon, a reformed diamond thief who’s now known for his wonderful singing voice. He works in a nightclub run by his good buddy Fu and he’s content to keep his life simple. Someone else has a different life path in mind for Poon though, as a new thief in town is accurately impersonating his trademarks and making everyone think that Poon’s up to his old tricks. He could be, and the mystery of just who is stealing everyone’s jewelry is one of the best parts of the film. In some ways it reminded me of The Big Lebowski, where an innocent dude gets mixed up in a sea of people all out to get him and play him for their own interests, but realistically that foundational story has its roots in places far older than The Big Lebowski, such as Dashiell Hammett’s groundbreaking 1929 novel Red Harvest (itself a huge influence on film, particularly on the work of Akira Kurosawa & Sergio Leone).

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