Lady With a Sword (1971)

LadyWithASwordLady With a Sword [鳳飛飛] (1971)

Starring Lily Ho Li-Li, James Nam Gung-Fan, Meng Yuen-Man, Wang Hsieh, Chai No, Lam Jing, Ou-Yang Sha-Fei, Lee Pang-Fei, Lee Hoi-Lung, Chen Feng-Chen, Lee Ho, Lei Lung, Goo Man-Chung

Directed by Kao Pao-Shu

Expectations: Pretty low, based on the poor title.

threehalfstar


You’ve no doubt heard the adage, “Don’t judge a book by its cover” before, but you also shouldn’t judge a foreign movie by its lazy English title. Many Hong Kong films feature translated titles very similar to their Chinese counterparts, but because Lady With a Sword was originally named after its hero, Feng Fei Fei, no real translation to English could be made. I imagine that whoever was in charge of the English titles at Shaw Brothers decided to slap on the first thing they came up with and call it a day. So we’re stuck with Lady With a Sword, one of the most boring titles for a film ever.

Although, as the film played I kept rolling the title around in my head, trying to uncover some justification for why someone would slap it on this film (other than the fact that it is indeed about a lady with a sword). Film companies ultimately want to make money, so you’d think they’d want to use a title that relates in some way. By the end of the film, I had come around to it not being that bad of a title because at its heart, Lady With a Sword is about the mothering instinct and how when pushed, a female is not only capable of anything a man is, they are capable of more because of that instinctual ability to throw all caution aside to protect their loved ones. There had been many previous swordswomen films, but this one dared to actually treat them like women with distinct traits and desires, instead of a gender-neutral person that many mistake for a man.

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Twelve Deadly Coins (1969)

Twelve Deadly Coins [十二金錢鏢] (1969)

Starring Ching Li, Lo Lieh, Tien Feng, Jeng Man-Jing, Fang Mian, Wu Ma, Lau Kar-Leung, Chiu Hung, Tang Chia, Lee Pang-Fei, Lee Ho, Lam Jing, Wong Ching Ho, Ho Ming-Chung

Directed by Hsu Cheng Hung

Expectations: Low, not a big fan of Hsu Cheng Hung.


This one goes out to all the melodrama fans in the audience. If you can dig it thick and extravagant, then Twelve Deadly Coins is gonna hit you right in the sweet spot. If on the other hand you favor a Chang Cheh style, balls-out action picture, then you’re going to be disappointed. It’s important to know this going in, and because of this, I was able to set myself up accordingly and have a good time with it despite my distinct preference for the action side of things.

Lo Lieh and Ho Ming-Chung play students of Tien Feng and his twelve deadly coin technique. Ho is too cocky for his own good when his master gives him the task to transport 20,000 taels of gold across country to pay the county for something I didn’t quite catch. Lo Lieh tries to help steer him in the right direction, fearing an ambush hiding around the next corner. Sure enough, as soon as they take the path Lo Lieh advises Ho not to, dudes in black burst out of the ground and assault the convoy. This leads them to immediately suspect Lo Lieh of being a traitor, and the real drama and intrigue begins.

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The Sword of Swords (1968)

The Sword of Swords [神刀] (1968)

Starring Jimmy Wang Yu, Li Ching, Tien Feng, Wong Chung-Shun, Cheng Miu, Shu Pei-Pei, Yeung Chi Hing, Lam Jing, Lee Wan Chung, Ou-Yang Sha-Fei, Lee Ho, Tang Chia, Chan Wan-Wa, Poon Oi-Lun, Shum Lo

Directed by Cheng Kang

Expectations: High. I’ve heard this is a good one.


The Sword of Swords is somewhat overlong and overly melodramatic, but it more than makes up for this with some of the best choreographed fights to come out of the Shaw Brothers studios up to this point. With the action directed by famous duo Tang Chia and Lau Kar-Leung, you know to expect something special and nearly every fight in the film delivers on that promise. The film is more than just fights though, and without the grounding that the drama provides, the fights wouldn’t be nearly as satisfying.

The sword of swords is a sword forged of the best metal and capable of turning the tide in any battle. It is such an incredible weapon that even a mere slice through the air creates a gale of wind to knock your opponent off-balance. The sword doesn’t get used much in the film, but when it does, director Cheng Kang does a great job of selling just how powerful it is with dutch angles and whooshing sound effects. Each swipe of the sword is meaningful and tense, and the fact that the characters choose not to use it when they could easily decimate their opponents is beside the point. Instead, the sword is the punctuation on the film, the object which everyone revolves around and something of its power would be lost if everyone was swinging it around willy-nilly.

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The Assassin (1967)

The Assassin [大刺客] (1967)

Starring Jimmy Wang Yu, Lisa Chiao Chiao, Lee Heung-Gwan, Tien Feng, Wong Chung-Shun, Cliff Lok Kam Tung, Lam Jing, Fang Mian, Cheung Pooi-Saan, Cheng Lui, Wang Kuang-Yu, Ma Ying

Directed by Chang Cheh

Expectations: High, it’s Chang Cheh’s next movie after The One-Armed Swordsman. I’m pumped!


Chang Cheh does it again with his third film of 1967, after the lackluster Trail of the Broken Blade and the genre-defining The One-Armed Swordsman. As soon as the film starts it’s clear that Chang’s intentions were different for this film. He didn’t go in hoping to directly capitalize on his past success, nor did he set out to make a traditional martial arts picture. Instead, The Assassin opens with a large block of story text about the warring states of China, accompanied by a bombastic, epic musical score. The first frame of footage is a sword graphically plunging through a human torso with a spray of deep red blood. Wow!

This opening betrays the film a bit as it sets up the modern viewer for an over-the-top, exaggerated display of wall-to-wall bloodshed and the film is very far from this expectation. In fact, it is a character-driven historical epic tragedy and it succeeds on every level. Martial arts films are not known for their quality stories and writing, but The Assassin bucks all trends and delivers one of the richest tales the genre has to offer. Instead of being a martial arts film with a few quality scenes of drama, this expectation is flipped on its head. The characters are deep and full of life, their decisions having ripple effects throughout the lives of everyone else in the story. It is all incredibly well told and is a testament to Chang Cheh’s writing ability in addition to his skill behind the camera. The Assassin sits high on top of the heap when it comes to well-written kung fu pictures.

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The Silent Swordsman (1967)

The Silent Swordsman [儒俠] (1967)

Starring Chang Yi, Yue Wai, Shu Pei-Pei, Lisa Chiao Chiao, Wong Chung-Shun, Goo Man-Chung, Cheng Miu, Tien Feng, Yeung Chi Hing, Fang Mian, Lau Leung Wa, Lam Jing, Wong Ching Ho, Lo Lieh

Directed by Kao Li


Released only six weeks after The One Armed Swordsman, I went into The Silent Swordsman with no expectations that the heroic, masculine bloodshed of Chang Cheh would have penetrated into the other films of the studio this quickly. This worked out, as The Silent Swordsman is absolutely nothing like The One Armed Swordsman and it would be unfair to compare the two films. Instead The Silent Swordsman is more of a political intrigue historical epic than a wuxia film, and should be viewed as such.

The film opens with a massive battle as invaders try to overtake the wall General Yuan defends. They should have received reinforcements by now and they fear that General Lu Qiang of Zhenxi is a traitor, refusing to send troops on purpose. General Yuan sends a message to the Sun Moon martial club, hoping that their clan leader can spy on General Lu and coerce him into providing the reinforcements. Our main character though is Shen Bingyi (Chang Yi), a young skilled martial artist who sets out to find his brother Zhong, the leader of the Sun Moon Club. He’s not in the movie in the way a traditional main character is, but by the second half the story has shifted enough to allow him into it.

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The Twin Swords (1965)

The Twin Swords [鴛鴦劍俠] (1965)

Starring Chin Ping, Jimmy Wang Yu, Ivy Ling Po, Petrina Fung Bo Bo, Lo Lieh, Tien Feng, Cheng Miu, Wu Ma, Ku Feng, Lau Leung Wa, Chen Hung Lieh, Chiu Ming, Feng Yi, Kao Pao Shu, Lam Jing, Lee Wan Chung, Wong Ching Ho, Wong Yeuk Ping

Directed by Hsu Cheng Hung

Expectations: Low. The first film was OK, I don’t expect this will be too much different. I have heard it is better though.


This is more like it. I hope you like martial arts fantasy movies, because The Twin Swords packs lots of imaginative fun into its compact runtime. Starting off with the final scene from Temple of the Red Lotus, our heroes Jimmy Wang Yu and Chin Ping battle through the villainous scoundrels of the Red Lotus clan. They are once again saved by the quick darts of the Scarlet Maid, but the forces of evil are not known for resting on their laurels. They quickly concoct a plan to lure our heroes and their twin swords straight into the Red Lotus temple, which has been newly retrofitted with tons of lethal traps!

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Temple of the Red Lotus (1965)

Temple of the Red Lotus [江湖奇俠] (1965)
AKA “The Red Lotus Monastery”

Starring Jimmy Wang Yu, Chin Ping, Ivy Ling Po, Lo Lieh, Petrina Fung Bo Bo, Tien Feng, Ku Feng, Wu Ma, Kao Pao Shu, Lau Leung Wa, Chen Hung Lieh, Chiu Ming, Feng Yi, Ko Lo Chuen, Kok Lee Yan, Lam Jing

Directed by Hsu Cheng Hung

Expectations: Moderate, as this is such an early Shaw and it’s bound to be rough, but I’ve been building a lot of mind-hype for this over the past few months.


It all had to start someplace, and for the Shaw Studios, this is evidently the first of their films to include martial arts sequences. It fared very well at the box office, spawned two sequels (which I will be looking at in the coming weeks), and launched an entire genre. While Come Drink With Me and The One-Armed Swordsman may be more well-known films from this early period in Shaw history, Temple of the Red Lotus was their first color martial arts film and is notable for that if nothing else.

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