The Silver Emulsion Podcast: Ep. 59 โ€“ 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! ๐Ÿ™‚

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 –ย 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!

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Swordsman at Large (1971)

SwordsmanatLarge+1971-66-bSwordsman at Large [่•ญๅไธ€้ƒŽ] (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 Secret of the Dirk (1970)

The Secret of the Dirk [ๅคง็พ…ๅŠไฟ ] (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.

Continue reading The Secret of the Dirk (1970) →

Twelve Deadly Coins (1969)

Twelve Deadly Coins [ๅไบŒ้‡‘้Œข้ข] (1969)

Starring Ching Li, Lo Lieh, Tien Feng, Jeng Man-Jing, Fang Mian, Wu Ma, Lau Kar-Leung, Chiu Hung, Tang Chia, Lee Pang-Fei, Lee Ho, Lam Jing, Wong Ching Ho, Ho Ming-Chung

Directed by Hsu Cheng Hung

Expectations: Low, not a big fan of Hsu Cheng Hung.


This one goes out to all the melodrama fans in the audience. If you can dig it thick and extravagant, then Twelve Deadly Coins is gonna hit you right in the sweet spot. If on the other hand you favor a Chang Cheh style, balls-out action picture, then you’re going to be disappointed. It’s important to know this going in, and because of this, I was able to set myself up accordingly and have a good time with it despite my distinct preference for the action side of things.

Lo Lieh and Ho Ming-Chung play students of Tien Feng and his twelve deadly coin technique. Ho is too cocky for his own good when his master gives him the task to transport 20,000 taels of gold across country to pay the county for something I didn’t quite catch. Lo Lieh tries to help steer him in the right direction, fearing an ambush hiding around the next corner. Sure enough, as soon as they take the path Lo Lieh advises Ho not to, dudes in black burst out of the ground and assault the convoy. This leads them to immediately suspect Lo Lieh of being a traitor, and the real drama and intrigue begins.

Continue reading Twelve Deadly Coins (1969) →

The Silver Fox (1968)

The Silver Fox [็Ž‰้ข้ฃ›็‹] (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.

Continue reading The Silver Fox (1968) →

Mini-Review: King Cat (1967)

King Cat [ไธƒไฟ ไบ”็พฉ] (1967)

Starring Chang Yi, Kiu Chong, Pat Ting Hung, Lo Lieh, Carrie Ku Mei, Cheng Miu, Fang Mian, Yeung Chi Hing, Goo Man-Chung, Wong Chung-Shun, Ngai Ping-Ngo, Fan Mei-Sheng, Lee Wan Chung, Tung Choi-Bo, Ching Li, Chin Feng, Helen Ma Hoi-Lun

Directed by Hsu Cheng Hung

Expectations: Low. Hsu Cheng Hung has burned me too many times.


King Cat is another of Hsu Cheng Hung’s opera action films and is probably the worst of the ones I’ve seen yet. It’s not that it’s poorly made or acted, it’s just boring. Mostly filled with scenes of talking officials and their swordsman bodyguards, King Cat should have been the fun assassin vs. assassin tale the script wanted it to be, instead of the slow-moving and tedious film it is. This is the type of movie I would gladly see remade if in the hand’s of a skilled team, because at its heart, it has good potential. You could probably say something similar about most of these really early Shaw Brothers films, but it is especially apparent on King Cat.

Chang Yi plays the King Cat, dubbed this by the Emperor after heroically saving the Empress from assassination. The guy deserved the title because in order to save her he caught an arrow mid-flight, leapt across an insane distance to thwart the assassin, and when some evil accomplices pushed the Empress off a balcony, he jumped to the street below to catch her as she fell. And what rescue like that would be complete without sideways wall-walking the saved girl back up to the balcony? King Cat is an understatement of how awesome this guy is. The problem is that after this awesome and daring sequence, the film languishes about as Kiu Chong, the Brocaded Mouse, attempts to sabotage the King Cat’s reputation because he feels threatened by Chang Yi’s new title. Y’see, Chong and his brothers make up the famous Five Mice of Xiankong Island and they don’t like cats poking their noses into their affairs. If nothing else, this film does offer up some great wuxia names!

The last half hour picks up a bit with a good, but much too short fight between Kiu Chong and Chang Yi, culminating in a wonderful set of traps. It wouldn’t be a Hsu Cheng Hung film without a bunch of traps! The final battle continues to feature various fun traps, and more of the extremely floaty wirework on display throughout the film. Each floaty jump is accompanied by a fluttering sound effect, which is fun the first few times, but thirty jumps later, it’s not quite the same. If you’re looking for a fun action movie, look elsewhere. King Cat has its moments, but they are very few and far between.

The Thundering Sword (1967)

The Thundering Sword [็ฅžๅ‰‘้œ‡ๆฑŸๆน–] (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.

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