Lady With a Sword (1971)

LadyWithASwordLady With a Sword [鳳飛飛] (1971)

Starring Lily Ho Li-Li, James Nam Gung-Fan, Meng Yuen-Man, Wang Hsieh, Chai No, Lam Jing, Ou-Yang Sha-Fei, Lee Pang-Fei, Lee Hoi-Lung, Chen Feng-Chen, Lee Ho, Lei Lung, Goo Man-Chung

Directed by Kao Pao-Shu

Expectations: Pretty low, based on the poor title.

threehalfstar


You’ve no doubt heard the adage, “Don’t judge a book by its cover” before, but you also shouldn’t judge a foreign movie by its lazy English title. Many Hong Kong films feature translated titles very similar to their Chinese counterparts, but because Lady With a Sword was originally named after its hero, Feng Fei Fei, no real translation to English could be made. I imagine that whoever was in charge of the English titles at Shaw Brothers decided to slap on the first thing they came up with and call it a day. So we’re stuck with Lady With a Sword, one of the most boring titles for a film ever.

Although, as the film played I kept rolling the title around in my head, trying to uncover some justification for why someone would slap it on this film (other than the fact that it is indeed about a lady with a sword). Film companies ultimately want to make money, so you’d think they’d want to use a title that relates in some way. By the end of the film, I had come around to it not being that bad of a title because at its heart, Lady With a Sword is about the mothering instinct and how when pushed, a female is not only capable of anything a man is, they are capable of more because of that instinctual ability to throw all caution aside to protect their loved ones. There had been many previous swordswomen films, but this one dared to actually treat them like women with distinct traits and desires, instead of a gender-neutral person that many mistake for a man.

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The Rescue (1971)

The Rescue-1971The Rescue [血酒天牢] (1971)

Starring Lo Lieh, Shih Szu, Goo Man-Chung, Fang Mian, Ling Ling, Bolo Yeung, Chan Shen, Gam Kei-Chu, Hung Sing-Chung, Yau Ming, Tang Ti, Lee Wan-Chung, Chen Feng-Chen

Directed by Shen Chiang

Expectations: Moderate, but hopeful.

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In 1279 AD, the Mongols invaded China and formed the Yuan Dynasty. Minister Wen Tien Hsiang led his army to resist, but was captured and imprisoned. The Emperor of Yuan asked him to surrender, but he refused and was finally sentenced. While he was in jail, he wrote a “Song of Uprightness” to show his loyalty and this song later inspired the Chinese people to rise up against any foreign invaders.

This picture tells the story of how some patriots fought desperately to get the song out of the dungeons…

So begins The Rescue, and if that isn’t a humdinger of a setup I don’t know what is. But in a lot of ways, The Rescue is the definition of a minor Shaw Brothers film: it’s short (79½ minutes), it’s fun, but it’s not exceptionally great. Don’t let that stop you, though, as The Rescue has a lot of entertainment under its hood. I don’t think any martial arts fan can argue with a movie that features Bolo Yeung ripping a prison cell door off of the wall and using it as a weapon to defend himself and kill multiple attackers.

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The Iron Buddha (1970)

The Iron Buddha [鐵羅漢] (1970)

Starring Ling Yun, Fang Ying, Wong Chung-Shun, Chen Hung Lieh, Yau Ching, Yue Wai, Fan Mei-Sheng, Fang Mian, Goo Man-Chung, Yen Chun, Lee Sau Kei, Go Ming, Shum Lo

Directed by Yen Chun

Expectations: High. Sammo Hung choreography is generally fastastic.


It’s always fun when I discover a more “modern” martial arts film amidst the old school wuxia. It wouldn’t be fair to call this anything but a wuxia film, but its sensibilities are definitely progressive rather than regressive, and that’s always a good thing when it comes to this review series. The Iron Buddha isn’t a great film, or even a genre great, but it is remarkably fun, high-class entertainment that will satisfy those looking for a great diversion from your normal, not-flying-around-and-jumping-fifty-feet-into-trees life.

The Iron Buddha starts off uniquely as the rapist Xiao Tianzun (Wong Chung-Shun) is caught red-handed, but let free by a merciful martial arts master who is familiar with the reputation of the rapist’s teacher. He does not leave the rapist unscathed, though, carving a deep cross on his chest to mark him as an evildoer. Three years later, Xiao tracks down the man who gave him the scar, rapes his daughter while he watches and then kills him! Without missing a beat, he then murders the man’s entire school of students, save one rather resourceful guy who happened to be away from the group. This student becomes our main character, Luo Han (Ling Yun), and he’s out for some serious revenge! Now that’s a classic kung fu setup if I’ve ever heard one!

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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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The Twelve Gold Medallions (1970)

The Twelve Gold Medallions [十二金牌] (1970)
AKA Twelve Golden Medallions

Starring Yueh Hua, Chin Ping, Cheng Miu, Lisa Chiao Chiao, Wang Hsieh, Wong Chung-Shun, Yeung Chi Hing, Ku Feng, Liu Wai, Goo Man-Chung, Jeng Man-Jing, Fan Mei-Sheng, Tong Tin-Hei, Ma Ying, Go Ming

Directed by Cheng Kang

Expectations: High. Cheng Kang returns!


The Twelve Gold Medallions was Cheng Kang’s first feature since the wonderful Killers Five, so I went in hoping that it would live up to the pure, unfiltered awesome laid out there. While The Twelve Gold Medallions definitely doesn’t live up to that kind of hype, it’s a really incredible wuxia film that is sure to delight and excite fans of the genre. It starts out with a bang too, immediately dropping us into the action as Yueh Hua is doing his best to stop the messengers carrying the twelve gold medallions of the title.

The film opens with some text, hoping to frame the events of the film within some sort of historical context. The twelve gold medallions are the ploy of an evil traitor, hoping to thwart the plans of a patriotic general doing his best to preserve the current Emperor’s reign. Yueh Hua, a noble swordsman, takes up the task of stopping these messengers and their false messages. Beyond that, there’s also a romantic sub-plot between Yueh Hua and Chin Ping, the daughter of his master, as well as some drama between Yueh and his master (Cheng Miu) over the fact that Cheng has become the leader of the villainous group trying to deliver the medallions.

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Lady of Steel (1970)

Lady of Steel [荒江女俠] (1970)

Starring Cheng Pei Pei, Yueh Hua, Wong Chung-Shun, Fang Mian, Lee Pang-Fei, Goo Man-Chung, Chiu Hung, Lee Wan Chung, Law Hon, Tung Li, Lau Gong, Ho Wan-Tai

Directed by Ho Meng-Hua

Expectations: Moderate, but Ho Meng-Hua’s due for a great one.


Maybe if this film had some out a few years earlier, I’d have had a better reaction to it. Coming out in 1970, though, Lady of Steel is clichéd, derivative and without much to set it apart from the large amount of swordswomen revenge films, most of them starring this film’s leading lady Cheng Pei Pei. The intro sets up a rather adventurous, vengeful tale, but as in many of these early films, the revenge is saved until the end of the film. They’re taking this “best served cold” part of the saying way too literally; there is definitely such a thing as too-cold revenge.

Lady of Steel opens with Cheng Pei Pei’s father and his friends stopping at an inn for the night and getting attacked by bandits. They’re transporting a million taels of silver cross-country and openly talking about it at the small town inn, one might say they were asking for it. A large fight ensues and Cheng’s father tries to whisk his daughter to safety, but not before getting a dagger thrown into his forehead. As you might expect, this is rather damaging for the young Cheng Pei Pei. Her father dies before her eyes and his buddy takes her into the forest and leaves her with an old kung fu master. For anyone who’s seen a lot of these, I’m sure you already can guess that child Cheng Pei Pei grows up and learns martial arts during the credits sequence. I really look forward to the days when these training sequences make up the bulk of the film.

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The Golden Sword (1969)

The Golden Sword [龍門金劍] (1969)

Starring Kao Yuen, Cheng Pei Pei, Wang Lai, Kao Pao-Shu, Lo Wei, Wong Chung-Shun, Yeung Chi Hing, Alice Au Yin-Ching, Lee Pang-Fei, Goo Man-Chung, Ng Wai, Lee Kwan, Go Ming, Law Hon, Ku Feng, James Tin Jun

Directed by Lo Wei

Expectations: Optimistic. Lo Wei usually delivers something entertaining and different with his films.


I talk a lot about Chang Cheh’s prolific output of films, but Lo Wei was no slouch himself. The Golden Sword was Lo Wei’s third film released in 1969, and it is, at least for me, by far his best. Where Dragon Swamp and Raw Courage were both fun in their own ways, they feel like films that are just shy of realizing their true potential. The Golden Sword is Lo Wei finally putting all the pieces together to form a fun and vigorous wuxia film; I always knew he had it in him.

Two masked riders arrive at the Golden Sword Lodge and give the man of the house, played by Lo Wei, a small box. Upon seeing it, he gets on one of their horses and rides off into the night. Seven years and one awesome credits sequence later, the new chief of the clan is being appointed as they’ve all pretty much given up on finding Lo Wei. All except for his son, played by Kao Yuen, who decides he’ll venture out on his own to search for his lost father. Having scoured all the obvious places and local lands, Kao Yuen continues his quest in a snowy, mountainous region rarely seen in Shaw Brothers films, and here he meets Cheng Pei Pei disguised as a beggar. The fun begins here and really doesn’t let up until the standard Shaw Brothers “THE END” comes on-screen.

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