The Sword of Swords (1968)

The Sword of Swords [神刀] (1968)

Starring Jimmy Wang Yu, Li Ching, Tien Feng, Wong Chung-Shun, Cheng Miu, Shu Pei-Pei, Yeung Chi Hing, Lam Jing, Lee Wan Chung, Ou-Yang Sha-Fei, Lee Ho, Tang Chia, Chan Wan-Wa, Poon Oi-Lun, Shum Lo

Directed by Cheng Kang

Expectations: High. I’ve heard this is a good one.


The Sword of Swords is somewhat overlong and overly melodramatic, but it more than makes up for this with some of the best choreographed fights to come out of the Shaw Brothers studios up to this point. With the action directed by famous duo Tang Chia and Lau Kar-Leung, you know to expect something special and nearly every fight in the film delivers on that promise. The film is more than just fights though, and without the grounding that the drama provides, the fights wouldn’t be nearly as satisfying.

The sword of swords is a sword forged of the best metal and capable of turning the tide in any battle. It is such an incredible weapon that even a mere slice through the air creates a gale of wind to knock your opponent off-balance. The sword doesn’t get used much in the film, but when it does, director Cheng Kang does a great job of selling just how powerful it is with dutch angles and whooshing sound effects. Each swipe of the sword is meaningful and tense, and the fact that the characters choose not to use it when they could easily decimate their opponents is beside the point. Instead, the sword is the punctuation on the film, the object which everyone revolves around and something of its power would be lost if everyone was swinging it around willy-nilly.

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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 Assassin (1967)

The Assassin [大刺客] (1967)

Starring Jimmy Wang Yu, Lisa Chiao Chiao, Lee Heung-Gwan, Tien Feng, Wong Chung-Shun, Cliff Lok Kam Tung, Lam Jing, Fang Mian, Cheung Pooi-Saan, Cheng Lui, Wang Kuang-Yu, Ma Ying

Directed by Chang Cheh

Expectations: High, it’s Chang Cheh’s next movie after The One-Armed Swordsman. I’m pumped!


Chang Cheh does it again with his third film of 1967, after the lackluster Trail of the Broken Blade and the genre-defining The One-Armed Swordsman. As soon as the film starts it’s clear that Chang’s intentions were different for this film. He didn’t go in hoping to directly capitalize on his past success, nor did he set out to make a traditional martial arts picture. Instead, The Assassin opens with a large block of story text about the warring states of China, accompanied by a bombastic, epic musical score. The first frame of footage is a sword graphically plunging through a human torso with a spray of deep red blood. Wow!

This opening betrays the film a bit as it sets up the modern viewer for an over-the-top, exaggerated display of wall-to-wall bloodshed and the film is very far from this expectation. In fact, it is a character-driven historical epic tragedy and it succeeds on every level. Martial arts films are not known for their quality stories and writing, but The Assassin bucks all trends and delivers one of the richest tales the genre has to offer. Instead of being a martial arts film with a few quality scenes of drama, this expectation is flipped on its head. The characters are deep and full of life, their decisions having ripple effects throughout the lives of everyone else in the story. It is all incredibly well told and is a testament to Chang Cheh’s writing ability in addition to his skill behind the camera. The Assassin sits high on top of the heap when it comes to well-written kung fu pictures.

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The One-Armed Swordsman (1967)

The One Armed Swordsman [獨臂刀] (1967)

Starring Jimmy Wang Yu, Lisa Chiao Chiao, Tien Feng, Violet Pan Ying-Zi, Yeung Chi Hing, Tang Ti, Fan Mei-Sheng, Wong Sai-Git, Cheung Pooi-Saan, Ku Feng, Tang Chia, Lau Kar-Leung

Directed by Chang Cheh


OK, Chang Cheh just threw down the motherfuckin’ gauntlet! Every Shaw Brothers release up to this point is null and void, this is where the shit gets real. Taking a massive leap forward from his previous film, Trail of the Broken Blade, The One-Armed Swordsman comes off as not only a genre-defining masterpiece, but a career defining move by Chang Cheh. The loose threads of his later style glimpsed briefly in Trail of the Broken Blade are brought out here in their full glory, removing every last element of Chinese opera and replacing it with straight up badass iconic imagery and scenes.

Jimmy Wang Yu plays Fang Kang, the son of a servant who died defending his master Qi Ru Feng. Qi takes the boy in and raises him as a student of the sword, but he is looked down upon by his fellow students and Qi’s daughter. They confront him in the snowy field outside the school, one thing leads to another, and Fang’s arm is quickly reddening the snow. Distraught, he runs into the night, only to collapse into the boat of a country maiden who nurses him back to health.

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Mini-Review: Trail of the Broken Blade (1967)

Trail of the Broken Blade [斷腸劍] (1967)

Starring Jimmy Wang Yu, Kiu Chong, Chin Ping, Lisa Chiao Chiao, Paul Wei Ping-Ao, Fan Mei-Sheng, Tien Feng, Chen Hung Lieh, Wang Kuang-Yu, Wu Ma, Lee Wan Chung, Lam Chung, Pang Pang

Directed by Chang Cheh


I hate to do this to Chang Cheh, but damn this is one hell of a flawed, transitional film for him and for the Shaw Brothers studio. In a way, this film illustrates to me exactly why I set out to watch their martial arts film in order of release. The idea was the same as any other chronological jaunt through a catalog of work: to chart progress of style and substance of the artist (or in this case, the studio) as they go from the years of infancy to greatness. Trail of the Broken Blade is the perfect example of a film that straddles the line between what Shaw Brothers was and what Shaw Brothers was trying to become.

Prior to their commitment to the martial arts film, they mostly made opera films with female leads and lots of songs and costumes. Looking at their first martial arts film, Temple of the Red Lotus, it’s clear the film was made as an opera picture with some rudimentary fighting thrown in. Trail of the Broken Blade still exhibits elements of these musical pictures such as song montages that move the story along and ridiculous amounts of makeup on everyone’s faces, but it also features elements that would later become Chang Cheh’s trademarks. You can feel him wanting to break free of the opera framework, but as interesting as this is to martial arts film historians, it doesn’t make for a very pleasing entertainment experience.

When there is action, it’s pretty good for this era of Shaw Brothers but nothing spectacular. Both The Twin Swords and Come Drink With Me are more pleasing in their action, but as I mentioned above, the fights here signal the changing of the guard. The choreography is still slow and somewhat uninteresting, but Jimmy Wang Yu moves quicker than in previous films and without the aid of under-cranked film. Cheh uses many touches of blood to punctuate major moments of the battle, never as copious as in later films but definitely a sign of things to come. There’s also quite a few swords violently stuck into dudes, or my favorite, a henchmen skewered from three sides in a spike trap.

I tried my best to enjoy this one as much as possible, but it was a hard fight. It’s interesting to see Chang Cheh finding his style amidst the opera house bullshit Shaw Brothers had previously been known for, but it’s not something I would recommend to someone just getting into the genre. In fact, it’s a hard film to recommend under any circumstance, except to stalwart martial arts film fans that want to personally chart the hallowed director’s growth, especially since Cheh’s next film after this was the infamous and influential One Armed Swordsman!

Mini-Review: The Magnificent Trio (1966)

The Magnificent Trio [邊城三俠] (1966)

Starring Jimmy Wang Yu, Lo Lieh, Cheng Lui, Chin Ping, Margaret Tu Chuan, Fanny Fan Lai, Violet Pan Ying-Zi, Lui Ming, Chen Hung Lieh, Tien Feng, Lee Wan Chung

Directed by Chang Cheh

Expectations: Moderate.


Only the second martial arts film directed by Chang Cheh (the first being the lost black and white film Tiger Boy), The Magnificent Trio delivers glimpses of many traits that would carry Chang directly to the top within the Shaw Brothers studio. Don’t go in expecting copious bloodletting though, as what’s here is all fairly minor compared to what came later. Even still, The Magnificent Trio is a mostly engaging martial drama about a group of oppressed farmers that kidnap the daughter of the county magistrate. They are aided by a hero returning home from war (Jimmy Wang Yu) and eventually by two more (Lo Lieh & Cheng Lui) in their struggle for equality among the fields.

Together with The Knight of Knights, The Magnificent Trio explores the heroic bloodshed and brotherly bonds of combat that would become staples of Cheng Cheh’s later, more popular works. The Magnificent Trio is one of the better of these early Shaw efforts thanks to this and Chang’s solid direction. Even with only a couple of previous films under his belt, Chang shows that he has a firm grasp on how to shoot action sequences, letting the choreography play out in front of a well-placed moving camera. The editing works hand-in-hand with the camera, highlighting the action in all the right places. The first forty minutes are a little dry, but it gets a lot more fun after that, as Jimmy Wang Yu surrenders himself which allows for some fun rescue action.

Genre fans will definitely want to check this one out, but newcomers will be better served by a later, more exciting Chang Cheh film.

The Sword and the Lute (1967)

The Sword and the Lute [琴劍恩仇] (1967)

Starring Petrina Fung Bo Bo, Lo Lieh, Chin Ping,  Jimmy Wang Yu, Ivy Ling Po, Yueh Hua, Cheng Miu, Lily Ho Li Li, Margaret Hsing Hui, Wu Ma, Ku Feng, Lee Wan Chung, Lau Leung Wa, Kao Pao Shu

Directed by Hsu Cheng Hung

Expectations: High, after how much I enjoyed The Twin Swords.


The Red Lotus Temple has been burned to the ground and the twin swords of Chin Ping and Jimmy Wang Yu have been entrusted with the beautiful but lethal Phoenix Lute. The lute is more than a simple musical instrument, it is capable of shooting hundreds of needles at once; crippling, killing and maiming anyone in its path. They must take it back to the Jin family, where it is to be destroyed by the Fish Intestine Sword (or the less-fun translation, Invincible Sword).

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