The Silver Emulsion Podcast: Ep. 59 – The Thundering Sword

This week Stephen and I are rolling it back to the early days of the modern wuxia with 1967’s The Thundering Sword! Listen and enjoy! 🙂

Also: the show is now on iTunes! So if you feel like subscribing there, or rating/reviewing the show, feel free to share your thoughts!

Music Notes

Intro:

  • The Daktaris – Daktari Walk

Outro:

  • Prince – The Holy River

If you’ve got feedback, throw it into the comments below or email it to me via the contact page! We’ll include it in a future show!

The podcast is embedded directly below this, or you can go directly to Podbean (or use their app) to listen. If you want to subscribe, paste http://silveremulsion.podbean.com/feed/ into whatever reader you’re using.

Swordsman at Large (1971)

SwordsmanatLarge+1971-66-bSwordsman at Large [蕭十一郎] (1971)

Starring Wai Wang, Tina Chin Fei, Margaret Hsing Hui, Chow Sam, Got Siu-Bo, Liu Ping, O Yau-Man, Pak Lam, Yue Fung, Chu Jing, Chang Yi, Chen Hung-Lieh

Directed by Hsu Cheng-Hung

Expectations: Pretty low, based on it being a Hsu Cheng-Hung movie.

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As much as I’d like every movie to be made specifically for me, that just isn’t the case. Swordsman at Large is a great example of this, as it’s a handsome production of a rich, character-driven wuxia film in the old tradition of the genre’s roots, but as someone who highly values the changes and the advancements that Chang Cheh (and to a lesser extent Lo Wei) brought to the genre, I don’t care how handsome the production is, this is one movie that I just could not get into.

It must have been something of a big deal at its time, though, as it featured big name guest stars in glorified cameos. The stars in question are Chang Yi and Chen Hung Lieh, who basically come on-screen and promptly get killed. They mean absolutely nothing to the story of the film, but this is not the only moment in screenwriter Ku Lung’s script that is convoluted and meaningless in unnecessary ways. But this was Ku’s first credited script, so I can cut him some slack. He later went on to work with Lo Wei during the “Lo Wei Motion Picture Co., Ltd.” era, otherwise known as “the years Jackie Chan would rather forget” (and that I also just so happen be reviewing my way through currently!).

Continue reading Swordsman at Large (1971) →

The Crimson Charm (1971)

936full-the-crimson-charm-posterThe Crimson Charm [血符門] (1971)

Starring Chang Yi, Ivy Ling Po, Shih Szu, Fang Mian, James Nam Gung-Fan, Ku Feng, Wang Hsieh, James Tin Jun, Chow Siu-Loi, Unicorn Chan, Hung Lau, Wong Wai, Lee Ka-Ting, Wong Ching Ho

Directed by Huang Feng

Expectations: Moderate.

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The Crimson Charm starts out innocently enough. A father and daughter stop at an inn for the night and are enjoying a meal when a group of obviously bad individuals come looking for a different father and daughter who have done them wrong. They murder the father they’re looking for and then the leader tries to rape the daughter, and that’s when our first father/daughter duo step in. They can’t stand to see such villainy, and their altercation results in the death of the bandit leader who’s also the son of the chief of the Crimson Charm Gang. The Crimson Charm Chief vows to take revenge and murder the entire Chung Chow Sword School. Seems a bit extreme, but then that’s just how the Crimson Charm Gang rolls. But when the gang comes to take that revenge, they aren’t as thorough as they set out to be. They leave three survivors, and those survivors vow to take revenge on the Crimson Charm gang!

It might sound a little convoluted but it never feels that way during the movie, and for a wuxia film this is one of the more direct plots. The Crimson Charm is very much a transitional film between the complex early wuxias and the simple, paper-thin plots of later kung fu films, and it plays rather well as a combo of both. The film has a nice flow to it, naturally taking us through the chain of revenge before dropping us into the main struggle between the survivors of the massacre and the Crimson Charm Gang.

Continue reading The Crimson Charm (1971) →

The Secret of the Dirk (1970)

The Secret of the Dirk [大羅劍俠] (1970)

Starring Ching Li, Chang Yi, Helen Ma Hoi-Lun, Tien Feng, Shu Pei-Pei, Wang Hsieh, Cliff Lok Kam Tung, Wong Ching Ho, Chiu Hung, Fang Mian, Goo Man-Chung

Directed by Hsu Cheng Hung

Expectations: Low.


Hsu Cheng Hung apparently got with the program and finally delivered a compelling martial arts film! Throughout this series I’ve seen a number of his films (all of them up to this point, in fact), and just about every time I’ve been disappointed. As the genre slowly shifted focus from costume drama to action film, Hsu Cheng Hung films were generally throwbacks to the way martial arts films started, with songs and a general lack of excitement. He’s had a few moderately enjoyable movies, but The Secret of the Dirk is hands down the best film I’ve seen from him. It gives me hope that the films to follow will continue this forward momentum. If nothing else, I won’t start his next film with a resigned sigh and an, “OK, let’s get this over with” attitude.

I’m not going to break down the story beats here, because, like almost all wuxia films, it’s a needlessly complicated section of a larger narrative. The only things you really need to know is that 20 years ago some treasure was hidden and now the Black Tiger bandits want to find it. The people it rightfully belongs to are also on the hunt for it, as those who knew where it was are out of commission. This makes it sound like a true adventure film, which it isn’t, but that’s the basic narrative drive of the story. The storytelling gets a bit muddled during the first half because so many characters are thrown at you with little explanation, and I had a hard time keeping track of everyone. I thought one girl was a different character for about half the movie, and then when I figured out that she wasn’t, it also became clear that it didn’t matter.

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A Taste of Cold Steel (1970)

A Taste of Cold Steel [武林風雲] (1970)

Starring Chang Yi, Yau Ching, Essie Lin Chia, Shu Pei-Pei, Chen Hung Lieh, Wong Chung-Shun, Ku Feng, Wu Ma, Hung Lau, Simon Chui Yee-Ang, Fang Mian, Lee Kwan, Wang Hsieh, Lee Wan Chung, James Tin Jun

Directed by Griffin Yueh Feng

Expectations: Moderate. I like Yueh Feng, but the last movie was disappointing.


A Taste of Cold Steel is, like its title suggests, about an amazing sword that everyone wants to get their hands on. As soon as they see the radiant purple glow that emanates from it, they will stop at nothing to have it. It’s a slight variation on the theme of the martial world fighting over a world-class sword, but A Taste of Cold Steel sets itself apart in a couple of interesting ways.

First, the blade actually glows purple every time it’s unsheathed on-screen. People’s faces and everything around them glows marvelously purple; this is definitely a candidate for Prince’s favorite martial arts film (if he engages in such primal pleasures as this). It looks to have been achieved with a spotlight carefully highlighting the sword, but most of the time you can’t really tell and it looks quite fantastic and realistic.

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Swordswomen Three (1970)

Swordswomen Three [江湖三女俠] (1970)

Starring Essie Lin Chia, Shen Yi, Lo Lieh, Chang Yi, Violet Pan Ying-Zi, Wong Chung-Shun, Fang Mian, Liu Wai, Yeung Chi Hing, Lee Wan Chung, Tsang Choh-Lam, Hao Li-Jen, Suen Lam, Lee Siu-Chung

Directed by Shen Chiang

Expectations: High. The Winged Tiger was super fun.


While Swordswomen Three starts off with a lot of promise, it never successfully tells a compelling story or delivers the action thrills you’re expecting. This was Shen Chiang’s third film (and second martial arts film), but it’s riddled with all kinds of horrible storytelling and editing, making portions of the story nearly unintelligible. I’m somewhat prone to missing things in movies if I’m not entirely engaged, but there was one section of this movie that I literally rewound about five times and still didn’t have a clear understanding of what happened. The only answer is that it’s just poorly made, and in this specific case, it was mostly the editing that confused me.

Swordwomen Three tries to tell the story of two battling martial arts clans, one with the title of the Number One Clan from a recent tournament held every decade, and the other led by an upstart Lo Lieh who will stop at nothing to take the title from the other clan. He doesn’t want to wait till the next tournament because he doesn’t need to, he’ll just murder the other clan and everyone will obviously know he’s the best. Standing in his way, though, are the three swordswomen sisters of the title (played by Essie Lin Chia, Shen Yi and Violet Pan Ying-Zi). Also on the side of good is Chang Yi, the son of the master of the leading martial clan, and friend to the swordswomen.

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Brothers Five (1970)

Brothers Five [五虎屠龍] (1970)

Starring Cheng Pei Pei, Lo Lieh, Chang Yi, Yueh Hua, Chin Han, Kao Yuen, Tien Feng, Unicorn Chan, Wang Hsieh, Sammo Hung, Ku Feng, James Tin Jun, Lan Wei-Lieh, Chin Chun, Lee Wan Chung

Directed by Lo Wei

Expectations: High, Lo Wei’s been on a role.


As Lo Wei’s first film of the 1970s, Brothers Five comes off as the culmination of everything he had done prior. I said something similar about his previous film The Golden Sword, but this one seems to fit the bill even better. In terms of story, The Golden Sword struck the perfect balance between high-flying fights and martial intrigue, but Brothers Five sets its sights almost completely on delivering action-packed fight after action-packed fight. The film is chock full o’ fights, and while its story definitely suffers for it, no martial arts fan could deny the simple fun of watching a shitload of fights. And when those fights are choreographed by a young Sammo Hung finding his place in the martial arts film world, it’s even better.

I say that the story is thin, and that it’s the weakest point of the film, but Brothers Five does weave a very fun web of intrigue. Five brothers were separated at birth when the evil lord of Flying Dragon Villa murdered their father. The children’s caretaker sliced the backs of their left hands so that they would be able to one day reunite and take their revenge on the evil lord played perfectly by Tien Feng. The majority of the film is the brothers slowly coming together — usually by running into one another when they each venture to make a foolhardy assault on Flying Dragon Villa by themselves — so this means that a good portion of the runtime is devoted to something of a repeating cycle. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a fun cycle and it’s enjoyable as hell, but when you have multiple fights occurring at the same location, it does begin to run together a bit.

Continue reading Brothers Five (1970) →

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