The Enchanted Chamber (1968)

EnchantedChamber+1968-1-bThe Enchanted Chamber [狐俠] (1968)

Starring Margaret Hsing Hui, Chin Feng, Lily Li Li-Li, Lee Kwan, Goo Man-Chung, Pang Pang, Tung Li, Chiu Sam-Yin, Fang Mian

Directed by Hsih Chun

Expectations: High, for some reason. Probably because I couldn’t see this one for a long time and now its mystique is all built up.

threehalfstar


Wuxia films always contain some supernatural elements, but The Enchanted Chamber is a true supernatural wuxia. Powers and the spirit world inform nearly every scene in the film, creating a fantastically entertaining film that is a hybrid of wuxia, spooky horror and a tale of star-crossed lovers. Thinking about the other Shaw films from 1968, The Enchanted Chamber also feels quite unique in this regard, flawlessly blending genres together where other films of this era have a rough time presenting one genre as well.

Based on a tale from the classic Chinese collection Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio, The Enchanted Chamber opens by introducing us to Chiang Wen-Tsui (Margaret Hsing Hui), a trickster fox fairy. We watch as she thwarts an adulterous couple mid-coitus, and a few minutes later she sings a wonderful song while providing pears for some hungry children in town. It would appear that she is to be our main character, but about 20 minutes in, the film takes a hard turn away from her story. While she does return to play a very important role in the film, her introduction also serves double duty by introducing us to the type of world we’re dealing with. This is a world where mischievous fairies are very much a real thing, and if someone says their house is haunted, you better not stick around.

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The Swordmates (1969)

The Swordmates [燕娘] (1969)

Starring Chin Ping, Chung Wa, Wong Chung-Shun, Wang Hsieh, Yeung Chi Hing, Chiu Hung, Wang Kuang-Yu, Law Hon, Wong Ching-Wan, Chiu Sam-Yin, Wong Ching Ho, Cheng Lui, Gai Yuen, Lau Kong, Tong Tin-Hei, Lee Sau Kei

Directed by Chang Ying & Pan Fan

Expectations: Not much. Looks like a standard wuxia.


The Swordmates is a film riddled with flaws and reasons to write it off with simple indifference. Thankfully, the film is also filled with as many exciting fights as it is flaws, so despite being a rather average and clichéd film, it manages to entertain pretty well as long as you don’t have any expectations to mitigate. A plot to overthrow the emperor is the basis for the action here, with the plans hidden in the base of a statue of the Chinese goddess of mercy, Guan Yin. The good guys have it, the bad guys want it. Of course, it changes hands a couple of times. This is pretty much the extent of the plot in the film, but for some reason it was still giving me massive trouble trying to follow it. Part of this was probably my fault, but some of the blame definitely falls on the storytelling.

The statue begins the film in the hands of the good guys, who are trying to take it to the capital. Then it gets stolen by the bad guys, but these bad guys are clueless and don’t know what the statue is or what it contains. So while I knew that they were the bad guys, I kept wondering if they were also the ones trying to overthrow the emperor, or if that was actually the good guys looking for a righteous revolution. You never know which faction will try to overthrow the emperor in these films, but rest assured there’s usually someone trying. In any case, I was definitely overthinking this one.

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That Fiery Girl (1968)

That Fiery Girl [紅辣椒] (1968)
AKA Red Chili Pepper

Starring Cheng Pei Pei, Chan Leung, Lily Li Li-Li, Chiu Sam-Yin, Ku Feng, Fan Mei-Sheng, Ou-Yang Sha-Fei, Cheng Lui, Tang Ti, Nam Wai-Lit, Wong Ching Ho, Lau Kwan, Chin Chun, Chow Siu-Loi

Directed by Yen Chun

Expectations: Moderate. Hopefully it’s not another boring early Shaw.


That Fiery Girl is a hard film to rate (this seems to be a general theme for the films I’m watching lately!). For most of its runtime, it’s a low-key romantic film involving a bandit group and a heroic swordsman who has infiltrated their ranks. There are moments of martial arts and action, but it’s mostly romantic melodrama. I’m not a big fan of these kinds of Shaw Brothers films, so while the story was interesting and pretty well plotted, I found myself wishing for something more.

Like an unexpected package in the mail, the final act of That Fiery Girl delivers everything I could ever ask for from an early Shaw Brothers film, in greater quantities than even I could have imagined. While Chang Cheh is no stranger to ending his films with a large-scale extended action sequence, the other Shaw directors generally don’t use the technique at this stage of the game. If they do, it usually feels forced and nothing more than a poor imitation of the real deal. That Fiery Girl‘s ending is nearly all action, and it’s surprisingly good action. The film cross-cuts between two major battles to keep the action moving and it literally never lets up until every one of the bandits is on the floor in a pool of their own blood. There are loads of great moments of blood and gore thrown into the fights, including one of the best bamboo impalings I’ve ever seen. This amazing stretch of roughly fifteen minutes makes up for every shortcoming of That Fiery Girl and ends the film in the best way possible. It’s also gratifying to watch because the film’s plot up to this point, while melodramatic and light on action, is a fun set of twists and turns for our characters to go through. The threads of the plot all come together at once in the final action sequence, adding in an added layer of enjoyment for those that stayed awake and paid attention through the film’s more boring moments.

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The Bells of Death (1968)

The Bells of Death [奪魂鈴] (1968)

Starring Chang Yi, Chin Ping, Chiu Sam-Yin, Lam Kau, Tin Sam, Ku Feng, Yeung Chi Hing, Lee Wan Chung, Wu Ma, Hung Lau, Nam Wai-Lit, Shum Lo

Directed by Griffin Yueh Feng

Expectations: High. I’m becoming a big fan of Griffin Yueh Feng.


It’s films like The Bells of Death that keep me at this ambitious and lengthy chronological journey through the catalog of Shaw Brothers films. Before starting, the name Griffin Yueh Feng meant nothing to me but after seeing two of his films I learned to expect great visuals and some exciting filmmaking. In Chang Cheh’s memoir he mentions Yueh as helping to raise the standards of the Chinese film industry with his 1949 films A Forgotten Woman & Blood Will Tell. Good luck seeing either of those so I’ll have to take Chang’s word for it, but from the evidence on display in the films I have seen, it makes perfect sense. The Bells of Death is not only the best Griffin Yueh Feng film I’ve seen yet, it’s also the only film I’ve reviewed in this series that strongly gives Chang Cheh’s films of the era a run for their money.

The story in The Bells of Death is a pretty standard revenge tale, but it’s told so well and with such flair that it’s easy to forgive its familiarity. And really, is a good revenge tale a fault? I don’t think so. The film opens with three ruthless bandits slaughtering a country family and taking the eldest daughter with them for their pleasures. What they didn’t know is that the woodcutter they passed on the way to the house was the eldest brother of the family and when he returns home, he finds the carnage they left. This begins his quest for revenge and oh boy is it a good one.

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Golden Swallow (1968)

Golden Swallow [金燕子] (1968)
AKA The Girl With The Thunderbolt Kick, Mistress Of The Thunderbolt, The Shaolin Swallow

Starring Jimmy Wang Yu, Cheng Pei Pei, Lo Lieh, Chiu Sam-Yin, Wu Ma, Yeung Chi Hing, Hoh Ban, Lau Gong, Cheng Miu, Tang Ti, Ku Feng, Nam Wai-Lit, Mars, Bak Yu

Directed by Chang Cheh

Expectations: High, after the greatness of Chang Cheh’s prior films this has to be good, right?


Billed as a sequel to King Hu’s early Shaw classic, Come Drink With Me, Golden Swallow is Chang Cheh’s take on a classic wuxia epic. It contains elements of his previous, groundbreaking films (The One-Armed Swordsman & The Assassin) while also pushing forward his own style and technique to create an increasingly dynamic film palette to work from as his career progressed. According to Chang Cheh, Golden Swallow was his “first personal favorite” of his films and due to this, it represents a turning point. After filming Golden Swallow, Chang became disillusioned with the traditional wuxia genre and began looking for the next big thing. He made a few more wuxia films in the meantime, releasing six (!) films in 1969 alone, but their varied nature reflects the search for his next passion. Most directors would hole up in a room and emerge five years later with a new film, but that shit don’t fly in Hong Kong. I’m getting way ahead of myself, though.

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The Silver Fox (1968)

The Silver Fox [玉面飛狐] (1968)

Starring Lily Ho Li Li, Chang Yi, Tien Feng, Wong Chung-Shun, Yue Wai, Helen Ma Hoi-Lun, Chiu Sam-Yin, Chiu Hung, Ma Ying, Lee Ho, Fan Mei-Sheng, Hung Lau, Goo Man-Chung, Wong Ching Ho, Lee Wan Chung

Directed by Hsu Cheng Hung

Expectations: Low, Hsu Cheng Hung seems unwilling so far to try much else other than the Chinese opera melodramas that I’m not to fond of.


The Silver Fox is a film that showcases the shifting nature of the Shaw Studio in early 1968. Directed by the less than exciting Hsu Cheng Hung, who made Temple of the Red Lotus & King Cat among others reviewed here, The Silver Fox is equal parts old school Chinese melodrama and new school Chang Cheh style vengeful violence. What keeps it from being a bad (as in bad) kung-fu movie is its wonderful story of betrayal and deceit, but what keeps it from being a bad (as in good) movie is its lackluster middle section that focuses on budding romance and the conflicted melodramatic feelings of the main characters.

The film opens with a stunning sequence involving the brotherly betrayal of Wong Chung-Shun and Tien Feng, as Wong steals two secret kung-fu manuals and then blames the theft on Tien Feng. Tien’s kung-fu is crippled by their master and then Wong throws poison darts into his face, disfiguring him for life and sowing the seeds of revenge. This is something of a different role for Tien Feng, playing a young martial student, but he does a great job with it and looks the part. Many years pass and now the Silver Fox is on the loose, trying to steal a gold plaque from the Jun Wai Security Bureau headed by the evil Wong.

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The Monkey Goes West (1966)

The Monkey Goes West [西遊記] (1966)

Starring Yueh Hua, Ho Fan, Pang Pang, Tin Sam, Fan Mei-Sheng, Kao Pao Shu, Nam Wai-Lit, Lee Ying, Diana Chang Chung-Wen, Chiu Sam-Yin

Directed by Ho Meng-Hua

Expectations: Moderately high. I’m insanely interested in this movie and the novel it’s based upon.


Journey to the West is one of the most influential and famous Chinese works of literature of all time. I’ve never read it myself, but years of watching Chinese cinema introduced me to the character of the Monkey King and the basic theme of the work. My knowledge of the actual book is vague, and a vague understanding of a 2,400 page book isn’t really understanding at all, is it? Due to my enjoyment of the Monkey King character, I’ve always been curious to see where he comes from and read the book. Then I found out that in the late 60s the Shaw Brothers and director Ho Meng-Hua cranked out a series of four films based upon the seminal work. It seemed like just the thing to dip my toes into the work without sitting down for the next couple of years trying to read my way through the over five hundred-year-old tale.

A Buddhist monk begins a perilous journey to the West, in search of important Buddhist scriptures. The only problem is that all the denizens of the dark, the demons and the undesirables, want one thing. To eat the flesh of the monk, as they believe it will provide them everlasting life. Along the way the monk Tang picks up three protectors to thwart these flesh-eating attackers: Monkey, a mischievous and magical creature that must learn to control his powers for good; Pigsy, an overweight glutton concerned primarily with any fine young females that come his way; and Sandy, a banished general of Heaven who now lives underwater. And let’s not forget the evil Dragon Prince transformed into the monk’s horse for the journey!

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