The Golden Knight [金衣大俠] (1970)
AKA Nine Golden Knights
Starring Lily Ho Li-Li, Kao Yuen, Fan Mei-Sheng, Shu Pei-Pei, Hung Lau, Cheng Miu, Ku Feng, Wong Ching Ho, Lan Wei-Lieh, Cheung Chok Chow, Wang Hsieh, Lee Siu-Chung, Chuen Yuen, Yeung Yip-Wang, Hsu Yu
Directed by Griffin Yueh Feng
Expectations: High, been waiting for the next Yueh Feng movie for what seems like forever.
The Golden Knight is the perfect example of a martial arts film that would have been great if it had been made a few years later. If that were the case, the boring fights would’ve been exciting, and the great backstory about stolen kung fu manuals and murdered masters would’ve delivered something truly spectacular. To be fair, there’s a good number of films from this era that do just that though, so The Golden Knight doesn’t really have an excuse. I guess I’ll just chalk it up to Griffin Yueh Feng looking to make more of a throwback, story-focused wuxia film while incorporating some elements of the newly rising kung fu genre.
The Golden Knight is not really about a golden knight as you might expect. It’s about Yu Fei Xia, an orphaned swordswoman accused of murdering members of the Golden Knight organization to get revenge for her father’s murder. She’s under the impression that the clan leaders all got together and murdered her dad, but there’s definitely more than meets the eye in this twisting, overly complicated story. Along the way to the truth she meets up with one of the golden knights (Kao Yuen) who believes her story and tries to help her.
Now, just because I didn’t really like The Golden Knight doesn’t mean it’s completely worthless. It features the first mention of the Shaolin Temple in a Shaw Brothers martial arts film, as well as a couple of notable fights where one or more of the fighters are unarmed. These are both signals of where the genre is heading and I like to think that their inclusion here is Yueh Feng trying to marry the fresh new genre ideas to the old, traditional wuxia intrigue story. Yueh Feng has always seemed to be one of the proponent forces in pushing the genre ahead, whether it was with the quality fights of The Bells of Death or his overall style and use of the camera. He uses snap zooms here incredibly well, not just as a cost-saving measure to speed up the editing process but as an actual storytelling tool. It’s a shame they aren’t used to tell a better story!
Even through my disappointment, I realize that my distaste may just be fatigue setting in for this type of martial arts film. Having had some incredibly revelatory experiences with such fare as Have Sword, Will Travel or Brothers Five, it gets harder and harder to come back to the simple wuxia storytelling of the old days. I have no issue with the types of stories being presented, but instead with the fact that they usually feature little action, and what is there is usually mediocre. But as I said, if you were to simply watch this movie as a fun Saturday afternoon of wuxia, I’m sure it would deliver enough thrills. It’s a well made movie, but within a week or so from now I’ll have forgotten nearly everything about it.
The one scene I will not forget is the one when two of the good guys are captured and taken to a black magic practitioner. The old, wispy-haired man creates a potion with a mortar and pestle, the scene washed in an ominous, blue glow. He strides over to the first captured man, slides out a pocket knife and cuts his fucking face off! He then takes said face and applies it to the face of a patiently waiting (but not necessarily calm) bandit played by Sammo Hung. Voilà, Sammo Hung is now Ku Feng! Take that John Woo’s Face/Off! Unfortunately, this storyline is horribly wasted and it pretty much never comes up again. This scene is good enough for me to overlook that, but c’mon! What were they thinking when they dropped in a black magic facial reassignment scene and then did absolutely nothing with it?
The fights also leave a lot to be desired, featuring quality, kinetic camerawork but absolutely nothing in the way of exciting choreography. The duties for this film fell on Han Kuo, who apparently realized he wasn’t cut out for the job (or was fired) after only three films. The Golden Knight was the first, so some slack must be given, but he clearly didn’t have a knack for it. He next worked with Sammo Hung on The Iron Buddha, and then closed out his quick career by trying another solo choreography gig with 1971’s The Crimson Charm. These are all Shaw Brothers films, so I’ll eventually get to them in turn. Digressions about failed careers aside, the final fight does pack some entertainment in, mostly in the form of the hardcore violence that brings it all to a close. I don’t know if I hated the bad guy enough to justify three swords being thrown into and through his torso, but it was a definite improvement over the wholly underwhelming rest of the movie that I struggled to stay awake through. And I always love a good “dying man stumbling around in slo-mo” scene, which the end of The Golden Knight delivers handily.[Editor’s Note: As you can see, I wasn’t able to find the real poster in any sort of quality so I had to go with the HK DVD cover for the lead image, and I also could not find a trailer.]
Next up in this chronological jaunt through the Shaw Brothers Martial Arts catalog is the quite spectacularly titled Heads for Sale! But you gotta wait, because it won’t be until after Ice Fest is over in a couple of weeks.