Twin Blades of Doom [陰陽刀] (1969)

Starring Ling Yun, Ching Li, Chen Hung Lieh, Yau Ching, Cheng Lui, Gai Yuen, Cheng Miu, Lam Kau, Fang Mian, Hao Li-Jen, Lau Gong, Hung Lau, Lee Ho

Directed by Doe Ching

Expectations: Moderately high. The name sounds fun.

Just like Smuckers, with a name like Twin Blades of Doom, it has to be good, right? Unfortunately not, as this is one of the most disjointed, boring Shaw Brothers films I’ve seen in a while. It’s not for lack of trying, the film exhibits lots of potential for greatness throughout, but at every turn the filmmakers choose to go in exactly the opposite direction. A lot of what’s wrong with this film can be traced back to its director, one Doe Ching.

Doe was a very successful, award-winning director during the 50s and 60s, specializing in melodrama, comedies and musicals. By the time Twin Blades of Doom was made, those genres had all faded in popularity and the focus of the Shaw Brothers had shifted primarily to the wuxia pian genre of swordplay, revenge and martial struggles. Doe Ching was pressured into making a martial arts film by the Shaws and the result is Twin Blades of Doom. You never want to resign yourself into making a film without any passion behind it, so the lackluster results are understandable. On top of all that, Doe Ching was very ill with stomach cancer and actually had to leave the shoot mid-way through. The film was finished up by Griffin Yueh Feng (a very competent martial arts director), but even he couldn’t salvage the film. If all that wasn’t enough of a downer, Doe Ching died only four months after this film was released, making Twin Blades of Doom his final work.

The film’s story is overly complicated and disjointedly told. Our main character (played by Ling Yun) carries the titular twin blades and is on a quest to take out the Ghost Gang who murdered his parents. That’s the basics and to break down any more would require many more words than I’m willing to waste on it. Suffice it to say, there’s a family he is taken in by that figures prominently (and adds a layer of the romantic melodrama that Doe Ching was so fond of), but none of it is particularly interesting or engaging.

One of the biggest missteps comes in the way of the Ghost Gang. Very early in the film they are introduced and we learn that there are five bandit leaders each known by a color and an overall leader known as the Ghost Chief. Sounds awesome, and I immediately began imagining the cascading fights that would ensue with those colorful motherfuckers. Perhaps if I actually saw the film upon release I wouldn’t have been disappointed, but as I’ve seen late 70s insanity-driven kung fu movies, I got excited on the prospect of the color-coded bandits. Instead Ling Yun barely even fights any of these guys! And when he does it’s quick, unmemorable and boring. For instance, one fight features a bandit wielding a chain with two giant spiked balls at the ends, basically a flail without the handle. The bandit menacingly swings the balls at our hero with an ever-increasing arc. How does he stop the guy? He simply reaches out, grabs the chain and quickly dispatches him without any real effort. C’mon, you guys aren’t even trying!

On the positive, the opening titles are pretty fun, featuring what’s probably the best fight and some of the best shots of the entire film. I’m gonna go out on a limb and guess that Griffin Yueh Feng contributed this scene, as it feels iconic and well-shot like all the films of his I’ve seen. By far, the best thing about Twin Blades of Doom though, is the actual second blade carried by the hero. Instead of another sword, or even a dagger, Ling Yun wields a small knife attached to a rope which he flings out in opportune moments to catch enemies unaware. It instantly reminded me of Scorpion’s iconic attack in the video game Mortal Kombat, and anytime I’m reminded of Scorpion is a good thing. The weapon actually doesn’t add anything meaningful to the combat though, as it is only used at the most obvious moments and in the most obvious ways. Still, a thrown knife with a rope attached is pretty awesome regardless of whether you saw it coming or not, so I have to respect that it’s even here.

Doe Ching’s indifference to the martial arts genre is readily apparent in Twin Blades of Doom, making it much too disjointed and boring than it should be. It’s highly reminiscent of the very early, melodrama-driven martial arts films in this way, with Doe Ching only now stepping into the genre and apparently hitting the same stumbling blocks that other transitioning Shaw directors had in the years prior.

Here’s the first part of the opening.

Next up in this chronological series of the Shaw Brother’s martial arts films, it’s Cheng Kang’s Killers Five! That one should be better.