Mini-Review: Princess Iron Fan (1966)

Princess Iron Fan [鐵扇公主] (1966)

Starring Ho Fan, Yueh Hua, Pang Pang, Tin Sam, Cheng Pei Pei, Pat Ting Hung, Lily Ho Li Li, Cheng Miu, Shen Yi, Ng Wai, Lily Li Li-Li, Ku Feng, Man Sau

Directed by Ho Meng-Hua

Expectations: High, I really enjoyed the first film.

Princess Iron Fan is the second in the Shaw Brother’s four film series of Journey to the West films. It’s not nearly as episodic as the first film, this time only containing two stories, with most of the runtime dedicated to the second one. It’s interesting to me that this got titled after Princess Iron Fan, the subject of the first and much shorter tale, instead of after the film’s main villain and trickster the White Bone Demon (or the Lady White Skeleton depending on the translation) played wonderfully by Cheng Pei-Pei. No matter though, let’s get to what matters… is it a competent sequel?

The answer is a resounding yes. Princess Iron Fan doesn’t deal out anywhere near the amount of amazing FX and crazy visuals as The Monkey Goes West, but it does remain enjoyable throughout. Don’t worry though, you get your fair share of crazy shenanigans going on too. One of my favorite of these moments is when Monkey has to infiltrate Princess Iron Fan’s home to retrieve the only thing that can quell the flames impeding their journey, her iron fan. First he transforms into a three-inch tall version of himself and tickles his way through the serving girls to create a distraction. Then as the princess receives her scrumptious ginseng soup, he transforms into a fly and jumps in the bowl. He travels inside her stomach and then announces his presence. When the princess refuses to relinquish the fan, he hits her tender stomach walls with the end of his staff and performs ulcer-inducing somersaults. Her only recourse is to give in and my only option is to enjoy the shit out of this scene. I’ve seen tons of amazing and inventive sets from the Shaw Brothers, but the interior stomach is something completely fresh and very enjoyable.

Princess Iron Fan is a strong enough film on its own to win anyone over, but taken as a sequel it builds on The Monkey Goes West very well. It doesn’t flesh out the character of Sha Wujing (Sandy) at all though, but there’s still a couple of sequels to do that. I don’t need anything deep, but some explanation of him or a show of his powers would be nice. As of now he’s only the dude with the beard and the crescent moon staff. In any case, it’s clear that Monkey is and always will be the main character of these films. Even though he’s only a disciple to the Monk Tang on his quest for the Buddhist scriptures, it is Monkey’s journey that is the most interesting and easily relatable.

The Thundering Sword (1967)

The Thundering Sword [神剑震江湖] (1967)

Starring Cheng Pei Pei, Chang Yi, Shu Pei-Pei, Lo Lieh, Wu Ma, Fang Mian, Chen Hung Lieh, Tien Feng, Goo Man-Chung, Tang Ti, Ku Feng, Ching Li, Shum Lo

Directed by Hsu Cheng Hung

Released just a couple of months after Trail of the Broken Blade, The Thundering Sword exhibits similar flaws but ultimately manages to be a much more enjoyable film. Director Hsu Cheng Hung previously directed the mediocre Temple of the Red Lotus trilogy with the fun, trap-filled middle entry The Twin Swords shining far above the rest. The Thundering Sword brings back a lot of what I liked about The Twin Swords, namely some killer traps and a lot of fun kung fu fantasy, but instead of an engrossing storyline we’re left with a moderate Chinese retelling of the Shakespeare classic Romeo and Juliet.

Continue reading The Thundering Sword (1967) →

Mini-Review: Come Drink With Me (1966)

Come Drink With Me [大醉俠] (1966)

Starring Cheng Pei Pei, Yueh Hua, Chen Hung Lieh, Yam Ho, Yeung Chi Hing, Simon Yuen Siu Tien, Ku Feng, Lee Wan Chung, Kok Lee Yan, Han Ying Chieh

Directed by King Hu

Expectations: High.

There’s a reason why Come Drink With Me is more readily remembered as the first Shaw Brothers color martial arts film and not Temple of the Red Lotus. Quite simply, it is leaps and bounds better, in addition to being a unique film unlike any other Shaw Brothers film I’ve seen up to this point. Credit must be given to director King Hu, as the differences and clever touches are predominantly found in the distinct style of camerawork and the excellent lighting, utilizing shadows to great effect.

The plot involves a group of bandits kidnapping a noble in hopes that they can exchange him for the release of their leader from prison. Instead, the Gold Swallow (Cheng Pei Pei) is sent to claim the kidnapped man. If these bandits only knew the shit they were about to be in when the Gold Swallow takes action! Her introduction scene in the barroom when the bandits challenge and test her is excellent, electric cinema; reaching similar heights of taut intensity that Leone achieved in Once Upon a Time in the West.

The fights are fairly well done, with spots of brilliance throughout, but it’s the end fight that is especially great. There is also a surprising amount of blood and gore and it all plays out realistically and effectively, heightening the mood of the picture. The combination of slow, precise sword strikes with the quick motions of Chinese martial arts beautifully couples the feel of a Japanese samurai film with the contained chaos of Hong Kong action cinema. Come Drink With Me is stunning to watch, thanks in part to King Hu’s inspired camerawork and solid acting from Cheng Pei-Pei, Yuen Hua and the wonderful supporting cast of bandits, most notably Chen Hung Lieh as the pasty-faced featured villain. Highly recommended to junkies and new fans alike, as it is well worth your time.

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