AKA Twelve Golden Medallions
Starring Yueh Hua, Chin Ping, Cheng Miu, Lisa Chiao Chiao, Wang Hsieh, Wong Chung-Shun, Yeung Chi Hing, Ku Feng, Liu Wai, Goo Man-Chung, Jeng Man-Jing, Fan Mei-Sheng, Tong Tin-Hei, Ma Ying, Go Ming
Directed by Cheng Kang
Expectations: High. Cheng Kang returns!
The Twelve Gold Medallions was Cheng Kang’s first feature since the wonderful Killers Five, so I went in hoping that it would live up to the pure, unfiltered awesome laid out there. While The Twelve Gold Medallions definitely doesn’t live up to that kind of hype, it’s a really incredible wuxia film that is sure to delight and excite fans of the genre. It starts out with a bang too, immediately dropping us into the action as Yueh Hua is doing his best to stop the messengers carrying the twelve gold medallions of the title.
The film opens with some text, hoping to frame the events of the film within some sort of historical context. The twelve gold medallions are the ploy of an evil traitor, hoping to thwart the plans of a patriotic general doing his best to preserve the current Emperor’s reign. Yueh Hua, a noble swordsman, takes up the task of stopping these messengers and their false messages. Beyond that, there’s also a romantic sub-plot between Yueh Hua and Chin Ping, the daughter of his master, as well as some drama between Yueh and his master (Cheng Miu) over the fact that Cheng has become the leader of the villainous group trying to deliver the medallions.
In terms of story, the film is a little weak. It’s not much more than “We gotta get these messengers,” but it is a perfect example of wuxia storytelling, where the original source material is enough for a multi-year TV series, and one film alone merely presents a slice of a much larger narrative. I don’t believe this film is specifically based on a novel (the trailer and the opening & closing text suggest it is based on history), but the same idea still applies. The Twelve Gold Medallions does manage to sidestep the usual problem of the ending to a wuxia film feeling incomplete, though, by presenting the culmination of the film’s sub-plots in a satisfying and rewarding way so that the impact of the ongoing nature of the larger story doesn’t matter nearly as much.
I loved The Twelve Gold Medallions, and I’m sure it would be a treat for any fan of wuxia cinema. I’m unsure of its ability to crossover and impress a mainstream viewer, but perhaps with a film this obscure and hard to find that really doesn’t matter much. Nearly every scene in the film is exciting and filled with something fun, but even still there’s just not enough to push it over the edge and into the realm of pure awesome. Perhaps it’s Yueh Hua or Chin Ping, stars of many ’60s Shaw Brothers films, but I’m of the mind it’s more of a focus on quantity over quality. The quality is still incredibly high, but it is spread just a little too thin. The film is also notable for being Chin Ping’s final swordswoman role, as she said farewell to the glamorous life of the actress, appearing in only two other films (both non-martial arts) after this. The film is a fond farewell to one of the genre’s first stars, as she was there right from the get-go in the Shaw Brothers first color martial arts film, Temple of the Red Lotus. Oh, how far the genre came in five short years.
Man, two original trailers in a row! I can’t believe it!
Next up in this chronological jaunt through the Shaw Brothers Martial Arts catalog is Swordswomen Three, Shen Chiang’s follow-up to The Winged Tiger, a film I very much enjoyed!