The Wandering Swordsman (1970)

The Wandering Swordsman [遊俠兒] (1970)

Starring David Chiang, Lily Li Li-Li, Cheng Lui, Cheung Pooi-Saan, Wang Kuang-Yu, Wu Ma, Chan Sing, Lau Gong, Hung Lau, Bolo Yeung-Tze, Tung Li, Nam Wai-Lit, Tung Choi-Bo

Directed by Chang Cheh

Expectations: Very high. After Have Sword, Will Travel this one should be pretty good.


After the wonderful and brilliant Have Sword, Will Travel, Chang Cheh made this film, but instead of using the fearsome duo of budding stars Ti Ling and David Chiang, he decided to make this one Chiang’s first starring role. Who knows what Ti Lung was off doing (his only films from 1970 are the ones that came after this and featured both Ti and Chiang), but regardless The Wandering Swordsman is an average, and fairly clichéd genre effort from the master Chang Cheh. I’d definitely rather see a somewhat lackluster effort from Chang than one from another director though, so The Wandering Swordsman does manage to entertain for the most part.

The film opens with David Chiang cleverly spying on two bandits. He plays with them from the grass, making them question if they’re alone. He’s so good that they don’t know he’s there, which he clearly gets off on. When the moment is right, Chiang strikes and takes the gold the men stole, in order to, y’know, give it to the poor. We got ourselves a regular Robin ‘ood! The first half continues along in this playful manner, but then it ditches the Robin Hood storyline for a more traditional wuxia “bandits vs. security company transporting treasure” story. It’s just that here David Chiang as Wandering Swordsman (Yes, that’s his name in the movie) gets caught up in the middle by being absolutely fucking stupid.

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The Singing Thief (1969)

The Singing Thief [大盜歌王] (1969)

Starring Jimmy Lin Chung, Lily Ho Li Li, Lo Lieh, Essie Lin Chia, Mui Yan, Chu Gam, Yee Kwan, Nam Wai-Lit, Man Lei, Au-Yeung Gwong, Yip Dung-Ching

Directed by Chang Cheh

Expectations: I really don’t know what to expect. Not much.


Well, this one certainly blew whatever expectations I had out of the water! Having taken wuxia to the highest heights he thought it could reach at the time with his previous film Golden Swallow, Chang Cheh sought to liberate himself from the standard Shaw Brothers cycle of constantly making wuxia pictures one after another. Instead he turned his attention to musicals of all things, and the resulting effort is The Singing Thief. Don’t be fooled by the title though, it’s not really a musical in the traditional sense.

The story of The Singing Thief revolves around Diamond Poon, a reformed diamond thief who’s now known for his wonderful singing voice. He works in a nightclub run by his good buddy Fu and he’s content to keep his life simple. Someone else has a different life path in mind for Poon though, as a new thief in town is accurately impersonating his trademarks and making everyone think that Poon’s up to his old tricks. He could be, and the mystery of just who is stealing everyone’s jewelry is one of the best parts of the film. In some ways it reminded me of The Big Lebowski, where an innocent dude gets mixed up in a sea of people all out to get him and play him for their own interests, but realistically that foundational story has its roots in places far older than The Big Lebowski, such as Dashiell Hammett’s groundbreaking 1929 novel Red Harvest (itself a huge influence on film, particularly on the work of Akira Kurosawa & Sergio Leone).

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The Jade Raksha (1968)

The Jade Raksha [玉罗刹] (1968)

Starring Cheng Pei Pei, Tang Ching, Yeung Chi Hing, Fan Mei-Sheng, Ku Feng, Wong Ching-Wan, Lui Hung, Man Sau, Nam Wai-Lit, Siu Lam-Wun, Kong Lung

Directed by Ho Meng-Hua

Expectations: High, Ho Meng-Hua usually delivers.


The Jade Raksha is just another Cheng Pei-Pei revenge movie on the surface, but there is something a little more interesting than that underneath its clichéd exterior. While the fights are nothing particularly special and the choreography is even less notable, the twists and the turns of the script and the character’s journey really do work their way into your heart and by the end you’re reveling in wonderful secrets finally exposed and smiling right along with the characters. This one’s definitely only for the fans, but those that seek it out will find a competent, fun movie, even if it is somewhat average and forgettable overall.

Cheng Pei-Pei plays the Jade Raksha, a swordswoman out for revenge posing as a legendary ghost to get to her victims. She goes around the countryside murdering anyone with the surname Yan, because when she was a small child, a man bearing that name killed her entire family and left her for dead. Early in the film she meets up with the savvy Xu Ying Hao (Tang Ching), who quickly identifies her and strikes up a friendship. Xu has a quest of his own, to find the man who murdered his father many years prior. The two vengeance seekers quickly find that their task won’t be as straightforward as they thought, when friendships and allegiances get in the way.

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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 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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