That Fiery Girl [紅辣椒] (1968)
AKA Red Chili Pepper

Starring Cheng Pei Pei, Chan Leung, Lily Li Li-Li, Chiu Sam-Yin, Ku Feng, Fan Mei-Sheng, Ou-Yang Sha-Fei, Cheng Lui, Tang Ti, Nam Wai-Lit, Wong Ching Ho, Lau Kwan, Chin Chun, Chow Siu-Loi

Directed by Yen Chun

Expectations: Moderate. Hopefully it’s not another boring early Shaw.

That Fiery Girl is a hard film to rate (this seems to be a general theme for the films I’m watching lately!). For most of its runtime, it’s a low-key romantic film involving a bandit group and a heroic swordsman who has infiltrated their ranks. There are moments of martial arts and action, but it’s mostly romantic melodrama. I’m not a big fan of these kinds of Shaw Brothers films, so while the story was interesting and pretty well plotted, I found myself wishing for something more.

Like an unexpected package in the mail, the final act of That Fiery Girl delivers everything I could ever ask for from an early Shaw Brothers film, in greater quantities than even I could have imagined. While Chang Cheh is no stranger to ending his films with a large-scale extended action sequence, the other Shaw directors generally don’t use the technique at this stage of the game. If they do, it usually feels forced and nothing more than a poor imitation of the real deal. That Fiery Girl‘s ending is nearly all action, and it’s surprisingly good action. The film cross-cuts between two major battles to keep the action moving and it literally never lets up until every one of the bandits is on the floor in a pool of their own blood. There are loads of great moments of blood and gore thrown into the fights, including one of the best bamboo impalings I’ve ever seen. This amazing stretch of roughly fifteen minutes makes up for every shortcoming of That Fiery Girl and ends the film in the best way possible. It’s also gratifying to watch because the film’s plot up to this point, while melodramatic and light on action, is a fun set of twists and turns for our characters to go through. The threads of the plot all come together at once in the final action sequence, adding in an added layer of enjoyment for those that stayed awake and paid attention through the film’s more boring moments.

Cheng Pei Pei does another great job as one of the bandit leaders and due to the romantic/action nature of the film, she is allowed to showcase her ability to play both the hard-nosed killer and the starry-eyed, tender girl in love. This is one of the best Cheng Pei Pei vehicles I’ve seen yet, and while her tonal shifts are definitely a bit over-the-top, they fit the film well and will definitely entertain her fans. Cheng Lui is great as the film’s main antagonist, going toe-to-toe with the main hero Chan Leung many times throughout the film. Their cat-and-mouse interplay is great and provides much of the film’s entertainment in the first two-thirds.

Director Yen Chun seems to have improved quite a bit since his last martial arts film, That Man in Chang-An. The camerawork here is solid and full of movement and vitality. The action scenes are very well shot with editing to match, creating some of the best fight moments so far in the history of the Shaw Brothers. Seriously, the editing that leads to the bamboo impaling is fantastic, as it absolutely sells the effect to the audience without it ever seeming fake. The color cinematography is also especially nice here, with the colored robes of the characters popping off the screen. Additionally, there’s a flashback filmed in black & white, which might sound gimmicky in text, but it works beautifully in the film.

If That Fiery Girl ended in a standard romantic way without the giant action scene, I’d probably give this one two stars for being well-done and enjoyable, but absolutely forgettable. Thankfully it doesn’t end like that, instead choosing to blast the viewer with fifteen minutes of pure awesome. It easily raises the film above many of the Shaw Brothers films of the era and while the rest of the film isn’t quite up to the same quality, it doesn’t matter. The strength of that ending is worthy of the three stars just on its own. I definitely recommend the film to fans of Cheng Pei Pei and older Shaw Brothers films; just hang on through the melodrama and you will be rewarded.

Not the best quality, but this is all I could find.

Next up in this chronological series of the Shaw Brother’s martial arts films, it’s Cheng Kang’s The Sword of Swords!