Vengeance is a Golden Blade [飛燕金刀] (1969)

Starring Chin Ping, Yueh Hua, Tang Ching, Kao Pao Shu, Goo Man-Chung, Pang Pang, Lee Pang-Fei, Chiu Hung, Law Hon, Ngai Ping-Ngo, Wong Ching Ho, Hao Li-Jen, Tsang Choh-Lam

Directed by Ho Meng-Hua

Expectations: High. You can’t go wrong with that title, right?

The reason I made it a point to go through the Shaw Brothers films chronologically is because I knew that there was no way that one week I could review some early misstep like King Cat, followed by something akin to heaven like Five Element Ninjas, only to return to the slow-paced, melodrama of the late 60s. Sometimes I do venture outside of the era though, and this time specifically I had seen Merantau, Flash Point and The Raid all in between the last Shaw Brothers picture and this. I’m a professional though, so I didn’t let it undermine the experience of watching Vengeance is a Golden Blade, but it did shine a brilliant spotlight on just how underwhelming an experience it was.

Vengeance is a Golden Blade starts out as another in the long tradition of “the most badass sword” movies, such as The Sword of Swords, The Thundering Sword, etc. The masterpiece sword here is the Golden Dragon Sword, and it is pretty badass, slicing clean through every bit of metal swung its way. The intrigue involves the sword being stolen by a grave enemy, the hero being crippled and eighteen years passing before anyone gets down to any real vengeance. This is where the film gains its true star in Chin Ping, and, to a lesser extent, her childhood friend Yueh Hua. While this might sound like a great setup for a classic swordplay film, Vengeance is a Golden Blade is only merely average. It does tell an interesting story filled with twisty turns and devious betrayals, but for the most part it’s all pretty standard fare.

Even without watching some modern martial arts films recently, I have to be honest and tell you that coming back to this style of traditional, overwrought, melodramatic swordplay film is hard for me anyway. The last few films in the Shaw Brothers series have all been Chang Cheh films, and two out of three were excellent. While Dead End wasn’t everything I hoped it would be, at least it was something different for a Hong Kong film, and therefore somewhat worth watching. But The Flying Dagger and The Invincible Fist were both easy favorites of mine from this era, and although I’m sure it has its fans, the fact that a film as average as Vengeance is a Golden Blade got a legitimate US DVD release, while the previously mentioned films are only available on out-of-print Region 3 discs is ludicrous. Are the rights to these films really that hard to secure, or are the people choosing these films just not fans?

One of my major issues with the film is its use, or lack thereof, of the amazing sword. The Golden Dragon Sword is trotted out in the opening minutes to great effect, only to be promptly stolen and hung on a wall for the next ninety minutes. Tang Ching (who expertly plays Chin Ping’s father) forges the sword’s equal, The Hanglong Sword, in the eighteen years between cuts in the film, but after it is finally finished, does it get taken out to exact vengeance? Nope, it spends most of the remainder of the film at the bottom of a well. There’s even a fight very close to the end that makes no sense to me because neither of the combatants wield their storied blades. Part of me expected wished the following subtitles to flash onto the screen mid-fight:

“I have the most badass sword in the land, The Golden Dragon Sword, but I left it at home!”

“Good! Because I have the only sword that can counter the most badass sword in the world, The Hanglong Sword, but my father threw it down a well.”

C’mon. This is where later Shaw Brothers (and my knowledge of them) gets the better of me, because when they start throwing out claims of the most badass sword, I expect its badass nature to be shown to me, graphically. I try my best to remember that this is 1969 before they’d really gone down the wild path in Hong Kong, but sometimes I just can’t help but be disappointed from my seat in the future. At least I know full well that by the time they got to the mid-70s, it was pretty much full-bore all the time.

So what can I say? I didn’t much like Vengeance is a Golden Blade but it’s far from a bad film. It’s all well-acted and well-produced, but its wasted potential really got to me. Ho Meng-Hua is usually good for a fun, fantasy swordplay but surprisingly the fantasy elements were limited to some ambitious wirework (for the time) and a few moments at the intro with the Golden Dragon Sword. Chin Ping’s had better movies, as have Yueh Hua and Ho Meng-Hua, but if you’re in the mood for some 60s melodrama, this one’s not too bad and it’s got a fun story to boot. Just don’t expect it to light your world on fire.

Oh, and because I just can’t let this go unsaid: there’s a wicked awesome decapitation that ends the best fight in the film. That was worth all the thick melodrama right there.