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The Thundering Sword (1967)

The Thundering Sword [神剑震江湖] (1967)

Starring Cheng Pei Pei, Chang Yi, Shu Pei-Pei, Lo Lieh, Wu Ma, Fang Mian, Chen Hung Lieh, Tien Feng, Goo Man-Chung, Tang Ti, Ku Feng, Ching Li, Shum Lo

Directed by Hsu Cheng Hung

Released just a couple of months after Trail of the Broken Blade, The Thundering Sword exhibits similar flaws but ultimately manages to be a much more enjoyable film. Director Hsu Cheng Hung previously directed the mediocre Temple of the Red Lotus trilogy with the fun, trap-filled middle entry The Twin Swords shining far above the rest. The Thundering Sword brings back a lot of what I liked about The Twin Swords, namely some killer traps and a lot of fun kung fu fantasy, but instead of an engrossing storyline we’re left with a moderate Chinese retelling of the Shakespeare classic Romeo and Juliet.

Chang Yi & Lo Lieh are tasked with finding the mysterious thundering sword that can destroy the world’s other two great swords. Unfortunately there’s no mention of what their cool names are, or if there was I missed it. Along the way Chang Yi meets up with Cheng Pei-Pei and it’s love at first sight. They cannot be together as they both search for the thundering sword but with different goals in mind. One night Lo Lieh ends up dodging a shitload of cool traps in an underground cave tomb and comes out on top with the thundering sword, but Cheng Pei-Pei mistakenly poisons him. It’s a rather hard plot to quickly summarize, but suffice it to say that this is basically a kung fu Romeo and Juliet by way of Three’s Company with all the ridiculous amounts of coincidental misunderstandings and shit going wrong amidst the blossoming of love.

As such, The Thundering Sword is mostly a slow-paced love drama with action sprinkled in here and there. There’s a lot less martial action than you’d expect and towards the end when every kung fu film ends with a climactic end battle, instead you are treated to more talking heads and only a couple of cool violent moments and severed limbs. There is one shining sequence about a half hour in though, when Cheng Pei-Pei mercilessly slaughters thirty-two men because of… you guessed it, a misunderstanding. See she thought they were ruthless and dishonorable, so she killed them ruthlessly and dishonorably only to later find out that they weren’t anything like that. Don’t worry about spoilers, the audience is in on it as she’s killing them, and despite this tragic fact, the scene remains the highlight of the film. If only there were more scenes filled with this kind of kinetic action and grace, The Thundering Sword would have been a home run.

Cheng Pei-Pei is in great form here, balancing the emotions needed to play a hardened martial artist murdering dozens in one scene and a young girl in love in the next. The two extremes juxtaposed against one another are an interesting aspect of the film, reminding me why I liked her in Come Drink With Me, while also showing me just how beautiful she is. Unfortunately her leading man Chang Yi is fairly lifeless in his first starring role, and standby favorite Lo Lieh has to spend most of the film laid up on a gurney due to his poisonous injuries. Tien Feng looks awesome as the white-haired, one-armed clan leader, but much to my chagrin, he never gets a chance to let loose any mystical martial techniques.

If you go into The Thundering Sword with your expectations firmly set low, you might get a fair amount of entertainment out of it, but those looking for more Come Drink With Me style Cheng Pei-Pei action will do better elsewhere. The slaughter scene is very well-shot and totally worth your time, but The Thundering Sword is much too light on action overall to satisfy martial arts film hounds.

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