The Jade Faced Assassin [玉面俠] (1971)
AKA And the Twain Shall Meet
Starring Lily Ho Li Li, Kao Yuen, Ku Feng, Fan Mei-Sheng, Cheung Pooi-Saan, Violet Pan Ying-Zi, Irene Chen Yi-Ling, Essie Lin Chia, Chai No, Yen Chun
Directed by Yen Chun
Expectations: Moderate. The Iron Buddha was a lot of fun.
The Jade Faced Assassin is a movie that knows exactly what it is. It doesn’t try to pretend like it’s an action film, it instead trades solely in wuxia betrayals and convoluted story beats. The Jade Faced Assassin is wuxia in the old tradition, except where a lot of those older films were clumsily told and altogether boring, The Jade Faced Assassin is pretty fun if you dig what it’s selling. That could probably be said for most movies, but I feel it’s especially true when we’re dealing with old school wuxia and a Western audience. You simply must know what you’re getting yourself into.
Anyway, The Jade Faced Assassin tells a pretty standard tale of martial intrigue, this time involving yet another stolen martial arts manual and a pair of infant twins separated and raised by competing clans. Our hero, Lily Ho, was cared for by the heroic Ku Feng, but he was assaulted and injured badly in the bandit infested “Happy Town.” The bandits raised Lily Ho as their own, teaching her every technique they knew, trying to create something of an über bandit. But their plan backfires as she’s simply not cut out for the bandit lifestyle, so when she’s of age she leaves in search of vengeance for her murdered parents. Along the way she meets up with a number of colorful characters (as is to be expected in a wuxia film), and has a rollicking, fun adventure.
I have to admit to being a bit unjustly disappointed with The Jade Faced Assassin. The separated twins angle had me thinking this would be something similar to Lo Wei’s Dragon Swamp where Cheng Pei Pei portrayed two characters. In that film it was a mother and a daughter, but it upped the entertainment factor considerably. So with the separated twins angle, I thought for sure Lily Ho would eventually meet up with another Lily Ho. She never does, and the identity of her sibling is kept a mystery until the final scene of the film. There are a couple of possibilities sprinkled throughout, though, and my naivety might just be me trying to relax and not break the film down too much instead of any obfuscation on the part of the filmmakers.
The acting is good all around, with Lily Ho holding down the fun-loving, heroic child of bandits really well. She gives the character a playfulness that lightens the mood of the film considerably and makes it a lot more enjoyable than if they went solely for melodrama. Ku Feng is also great as her protective uncle, and spices up every scene he’s in. I love Ku Feng — he’s probably my favorite Shaw Brothers supporting character actor — and this is just another in a long string of excellent performances from him. He doesn’t always get a chance to strut his stuff in a heroic role, so it was a welcome change to see him do something different than a devious villain or wise father figure.
If there was a major weakness to The Jade Faced Assassin it would definitely be the fights. They are laced with fun moments of supernatural martial feats but these are far and few between in a film where the fights are also far and few between. And then when the fights do come around they’re largely forgettable, slowly choreographed and boring. The best thing about the finale is the incredibly breathtaking mountaintop locale, and while I love some great location shooting, its majesty is clearly wasted with the paltry fight we’re given in front of it.
After the fun that Yen Chun delivered in his previous film, The Iron Buddha, I had hoped that The Jade Faced Assassin would deliver on a similar level. It definitely does not, but it does weave a fairly competent and well-told story of betrayal and wuxia intrigue. I’ve seen a ton of these types of films while on this journey through the Shaw Brothers martial arts catalog, but The Jade Faced Assassin stands out as one of the better told stories even if it’s not one of the better films. It’s still a largely disappointing movie thanks to its poor action and its overlong runtime, but that’s OK. It’s still pretty fun for what it is, and I’d definitely recommend it to seasoned fans looking for a new, old Shaw Brothers wuxia to experience. But all others should probably look elsewhere.
Next up in this chronological jaunt through the Shaw Brothers Martial Arts catalog is Chang Cheh’s classic The Duel AKA Duel of the Iron Fist! This is the first movie in the series that I’ve actually seen before, so I’m very excited to see it again and review it.