Rape of the Sword (1967)

Rape of the Sword [盗剑] (1967)

Starring Li Li-Hua, Li Ching, Kiu Chong, Chen Hung Lieh, Tien Feng, Tang Ti, Lee Wan Chung, Yeung Chi Hing, Ku Feng, Fan Mei-Sheng, Kok Lee Yan, Tsang Choh-Lam

Directed by Griffin Yueh Feng

Expectations: Low… I don’t expect much from the non-Chang Cheh movies now.


Rape of the Sword is the first post One-Armed Swordsman Shaw Brothers movie to take full advantage of its success. While this is still within the martial opera film genre most of these early Shaws fall under, there’s tons of inspiration torn from Chang Cheh’s playbook, resulting in a much more satisfying film overall. It doesn’t always work, but when it does, it’s golden.

The film’s story revolves around the invincible Qing Shuang sword. The sword was stolen from its rightful owner by Tang Ti in a murderous mountain duel in order to give it to an official, thus securing himself a nice, cushy job. The murdered man’s wife doesn’t take kindly to this injustice though, going undercover and plotting to retrieve the sword at the first opportunity, beginning a fun tale of revenge and betrayal.

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The Silent Swordsman (1967)

The Silent Swordsman [儒俠] (1967)

Starring Chang Yi, Yue Wai, Shu Pei-Pei, Lisa Chiao Chiao, Wong Chung-Shun, Goo Man-Chung, Cheng Miu, Tien Feng, Yeung Chi Hing, Fang Mian, Lau Leung Wa, Lam Jing, Wong Ching Ho, Lo Lieh

Directed by Kao Li


Released only six weeks after The One Armed Swordsman, I went into The Silent Swordsman with no expectations that the heroic, masculine bloodshed of Chang Cheh would have penetrated into the other films of the studio this quickly. This worked out, as The Silent Swordsman is absolutely nothing like The One Armed Swordsman and it would be unfair to compare the two films. Instead The Silent Swordsman is more of a political intrigue historical epic than a wuxia film, and should be viewed as such.

The film opens with a massive battle as invaders try to overtake the wall General Yuan defends. They should have received reinforcements by now and they fear that General Lu Qiang of Zhenxi is a traitor, refusing to send troops on purpose. General Yuan sends a message to the Sun Moon martial club, hoping that their clan leader can spy on General Lu and coerce him into providing the reinforcements. Our main character though is Shen Bingyi (Chang Yi), a young skilled martial artist who sets out to find his brother Zhong, the leader of the Sun Moon Club. He’s not in the movie in the way a traditional main character is, but by the second half the story has shifted enough to allow him into it.

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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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The Thundering Sword (1967)

The Thundering Sword [神剑震江湖] (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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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: That Man in Chang-An (1967)

That Man in Chang-An [幪面大俠] (1967)

Starring Fang Ying, Gam Jan-Fooi, Yen Chun, Allyson Chang Yen, Tang Ti, Tien Feng, Wong Ching Ho, Cheung Kwong Chiu, Piu Liu-Chik, Chiu Ming

Directed by Yen Chun

Expectations: Moderate.


That Man in Chang-An is yet another early Shaw Brothers film that gets as much wrong as it does right. It’s not a poorly made film by any stretch, but it suffers from being overlong and light on the action. The first hour is devoted mostly to setup with only a couple of small sequences of excitement, notably a wagon chase and a fight in the middle of the forest. Both scenes are excellent and are shot with an eye for enhancing the action through quality camera movement. There’s also a fantastic opening sequence in which our hero, The Masked Man, infiltrates the enemy’s castle and steals an Imperial Edict.

The sets are as lavish and beautiful as the costumes, and it’s clear the picture was meant as a costume drama over anything else. The second half of the film does get more interesting with various escape plots and short battles with guards. One of these fights features an impressive horizontal tracking shot that follows the Masked Man as he lays waste to all comers. As you’d expect from an early Shaw film, the choreography leaves a lot to be desired, but the shot is electric nonetheless.

The final fight is pretty exciting though, thanks in part to the undercranked fast motion of the combatants. I’m not a big fan of this technique but it worked very well here to get things moving. At 111 minutes this is a lot longer than your average Shaw film and it feels like it, so any increase in speed is appreciated. There’s also a ton of gorgeous exterior shots that add a lot of flavor to the overall tone of the picture. Ultimately, this is another one strictly for those already attuned to the works of the Shaw Brothers.

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.

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