Starring Cheng Pei Pei, Yueh Hua, Wong Chung-Shun, Fang Mian, Lee Pang-Fei, Goo Man-Chung, Chiu Hung, Lee Wan Chung, Law Hon, Tung Li, Lau Gong, Ho Wan-Tai
Directed by Ho Meng-Hua
Expectations: Moderate, but Ho Meng-Hua’s due for a great one.
Maybe if this film had some out a few years earlier, I’d have had a better reaction to it. Coming out in 1970, though, Lady of Steel is clichéd, derivative and without much to set it apart from the large amount of swordswomen revenge films, most of them starring this film’s leading lady Cheng Pei Pei. The intro sets up a rather adventurous, vengeful tale, but as in many of these early films, the revenge is saved until the end of the film. They’re taking this “best served cold” part of the saying way too literally; there is definitely such a thing as too-cold revenge.
Lady of Steel opens with Cheng Pei Pei’s father and his friends stopping at an inn for the night and getting attacked by bandits. They’re transporting a million taels of silver cross-country and openly talking about it at the small town inn, one might say they were asking for it. A large fight ensues and Cheng’s father tries to whisk his daughter to safety, but not before getting a dagger thrown into his forehead. As you might expect, this is rather damaging for the young Cheng Pei Pei. Her father dies before her eyes and his buddy takes her into the forest and leaves her with an old kung fu master. For anyone who’s seen a lot of these, I’m sure you already can guess that child Cheng Pei Pei grows up and learns martial arts during the credits sequence. I really look forward to the days when these training sequences make up the bulk of the film.
Cheng Pei Pei is of course perfect in her role as always. Yueh Hua once again plays the playful sidekick, this time as leader of the beggars that recalls his past work as the Monkey King in the first two of Ho Meng-Hua’s films based on Journey to the West. I wish I could say that they add something interesting to the genre, or that this one rises above by sheer force of will, but I cannot. It reminds me heavily of earlier efforts in the 60s, and while it is better made than many of those films were, it’s about as equally well-written, which is to say it’s not at all well-written. Check it out if you have it on hand and nothing better to do; it’s fun in its own way but nothing special.
Next up in this chronological jaunt through the Shaw Brothers Martial Arts catalog is Lo Wei’s Brothers Five, the earliest Shaw film to be available in the US on Blu-Ray!