Starring Lo Lieh, Margaret Hsing Hui, Chin Han, Fang Mian, Wang Hsieh, Chai No, Tung Lam, Wong Chung-Shun, Fan Mei-Sheng, Yip Bo-Kam, Shum Lo, Chan Shen, Lee Pang-Fei, Hsu Yu, Nau Nau
Directed by Cheng Chang Ho
Expectations: Moderately high.
While The Swift Knight starts out as a simple wuxia film that is seemingly inspired by the Robin Hood tale (as many are, although I’m sure there’s a Chinese equivalent that they’re actually based on), it quickly reveals itself to be a very different type of film than your standard Shaw Brothers fare. This is both a blessing and a curse, as it’s admirable for breaking parts of the mold and trying something different, but it also feels like something less than it could be because of this. In any case, The Swift Knight is overwhelmingly impressive, and a brisk watch for wuxia fans.
Lo Lieh plays the titular character with all the charisma you’ve come to expect from him. This was one of those rare good guy roles for him, and as with anything he’s given, he does a great job. But strangely enough in a film titled after his character, there’s actually a fair amount of focus on the characters that aren’t swift, or knights, or the Swift Knight. This is one of the major failing points of the film for me, because there’s not nearly enough Lo Lieh to satiate my desires. But in a film as fun as this, this is something of a moot point.
His villainous presence is later bolstered by another devious villain, a late-film addition to the rogue’s gallery that does his best not to openly fight, instead choosing to wield a small weapon that fires a deadly spike at his opponents. I guess it’s a good thing we have the Swift Knight on our side instead of the Plodding Knight. It should also be noted that many times this villain fires his weapon directly into the camera, creating a shot that makes the film look like it was designed for 3D. And this isn’t the only thing coming directly at the camera, it’s just one of many. If I didn’t already know that Lo Wei’s Magnificent Bodyguards (starring Jackie Chan) was the first Hong Kong film to be shot in 3D, I’d have thought for sure that The Swift Knight was. I guess they just tried to simulate it instead of going all the way. In any case, it adds a lot of dynamic thrills to the action, and it works completely as intended (as I perceive their intentions anyway).
Earlier I mentioned that The Swift Knight was a different kind of movie than a traditional wuxia, and by that I mean that instead of trading solely in broad melodrama and wild characters, The Swift Knight actually attempts to also feature understated, emotionally affecting scenes. This gives The Swift Knight a quality that in ways elevates it beyond simple genre fare and into the realm of art. Of course, those concerned with art films would have a hard time accepting a film with shots of flying dismembered limbs as art, The Swift Knight definitely attempts to elevate itself beyond the low-budget trash kung fu is often lumped in with. There are even a handful of flashback scenes bathed in deep, solid colors; the ones concerning the villain are in red, the kind scenes about a dying mother in blue.
I read somewhere that this was Cheng Chang Ho’s favorite of the films he made, and I can understand why. In addition to crafting perfectly edited, tight sequences of action, Cheng Chang Ho was able to flex his artistic muscles and try to bring something different to the genre. While the contemporary films of Chang Cheh were affecting and thematically impressive, they are based almost solely on wild strokes of melodrama, so what Cheng does in The Swift Knight is a completely different beast. I definitely recommend it to wuxia fans, but do take note that the first hour is more slow-burn than anything else.
Next up in this chronological jaunt through the Shaw Brothers Martial Arts catalog is The Rescue from director Shen Chiang! I thought his last movie, Swordswomen Three, was OK, but The Winged Tiger was pretty awesome, so hopefully it’ll be more of that! See ya next week!