Saturday, September 26, 2015



RAPE OF THE SWORD (1967) is produced by Run Me Shaw,  directed by Yueh Feng and the script writing is credited to Wong Po I. It seems to me to be a take on  Water Margin or Outlaws of the Marsh: a wuxia novel that takes place during the Song Dynasty and is based on the adventures of an outlaw, Song Jiang and his companions that band together and become an outlaw clan. In this world where all men (and women for that matter ) are corrupt and evil, a group of bandits decide they will somehow elude some sense of honor and protect the weak, innocent and the common people from the even more corrupt officials. Once again, this film is "retro-produced" and so looks and feels very similar to the black and white, Peking Opera type movies of the 1950's rather than the Chang Cheh state of the art style of the late 60's. Even the lyrics of the songs are usedto advance the plot and characterization of the actors. So once again I am going to show the movie some love and let that sly.  Also the use of music from a non-Chinese source is well known to us Americans since the Quincy Jones Ironside theme was used for Five Fingers Of Death (1973).  So, let's see what we have.   

behind the scenes photographs I found on the internet

The Qing Shuang Sword of the Han Dynasty called the "Sword of the Universe" and is one of the few "treasured swords" left in the Jiang Hu. A treasured sword is one not only of the greatest quality but also spiritually endowed with the essence of a virtue or principle. The owner of the Qing Shuang Sword, a clan master, has died leaving his students with his desire they remain a "righteous and honorable" clan. One of his senior students (Han) however, is having none of that. He murders his younger classmate who was in possession of the sword and offered it to Ming Prince Wu Yi in exchange for an official position as Chief Instructor of the palace guards. The murdered younger classmate's wife who was also his SENIOR classmate (Geng Liu Niang) goes "undercover" to retrieve the Qing Shuang Sword for the sake of her clan, sifu and revenge for her murdered husband. 

This movie's subplot is the origin of the Jiu Hua Shan Outlaws. Judging by the clothing it takes place during the Ming Dynasty. It tells how a mission to return a treasured sword to its rightful clan formed a union between two clans that evolves into a quest for justice as outlaw bandits and two righteous clans become one for the sake of the common people during a corrupt dynasty. 

Li Lihua as Geng Liu Niang is the star of the show and to her credit does a passable job in a thankless role as a woman that must do a "man's job" but remain undercover as a "woman".  I think, if she had been just a little more sneaky with it, or had more of a dual performance I would have been sold. But as I said it was an okay performance as the strong persona was convincing --the weak persona, not so much. Now, Li Ching on the other hand, just ate up the screen. We last saw her in KNIGHT OF KNIGHTS (1966) where she was already billed as the "Asia Movie Queen" and in this movie, she shows why she earned that title. There is no one in the entire movie with more swagger than she. I think back then they called it "moxie".  Everything she does is in a style out of place in a period movie, so she comes across as Bruce Lee did in THE CHINESE CONNECTION (1972) as someone too hip for the room but here she does it five years earlier than Mr. Lee! 

More than half way through the movie two more heroes show up: Kiu Chong as Lo Yi Hu the leader of a group of bandits and Yeung Chi-Hing as Master Liu of Liu Manor to help face-off with the only true villain of the movie Tang Ti (Tong Dik) as Chief Instructor Han. While Lee Wan Chung as Prince Wu Yi and Chen Hung-Lieh as Lord Lu Tian Xia are cast in a negative light they really do no wrong in this movie. Prince Wu was given the sword in exchange for an official post and Lord Lu was just being hot for the general's daughter. 
FUTURE STAR GAZING: You will recognize the recently late Tien Feng as General Zhong Ki, and Ku FengFan Mei Sheng and Wu Ma have small roles as well. 

FIGHT TIME!: Well, once again there is no action choreographer credited forRAPE OF THE SWORD (1967) but this time it is clear someone did that job for this movie. Especially for Li Ching's fight scenes, including a stunt double for her series of back flips during her challenge of the bandit chief. I counted 8 (eight) fight scenes which is plenty for any movie of less than two hours and, as I said, the fight scenes show some work and are pretty good especially when compared to other movies produced at the time that also have no action choreographer credited. They were entertaining enough for my taste so I certainly approve of the performances. Li Ching's fight performances also stood out matching her modern swagger. 

RAPE OF THE SWORD (1967) was a very ambitious project for Shaw Studios with the potential to be a multi-part series with all-stars casts in every project. Unfortunately this potential never saw the light of day as, after this movie,no sequels were ever filmed that I know of.  Thanks to reader Steven Feldman I have learned that there is, in fact, a sequel to RAPE OF THE SWORD (1967) it is called A TASTE OF COLD STEEL (1970)  and features the same antagonists. So, of course it is the next review. Thanks for the heads up Steve! Even with its few flaws (like its title) it is a very enjoyable movie and I certainly recommend it just for that reason. See you next time! 


Saturday, September 19, 2015



We are back on track, meaning back to the consecutive order of release in our movie reviews. After THE ONE-ARMED SWORDSMAN  (1967) Shaw Brothers released THE SILENT SWORDSMAN (1967) an adaptation of Jin Yong's wuxia novel titled THE BOOK AND THE SWORD. Let me spoil it a bit for you right off the bat. If you are looking to be "wowed" by martial arts excellence then this is not the movie for you. Even by 1967 standards this film is "retro-produced" and looks very similar to the black and white, Peking Opera type movies of the 1950's rather than the Chang Cheh state of the art style of the late 60's. Understandably, it was still a bit too early for Shaw Brothers to consider quitting on this style back then. So let's see what we have. 

Some time during the Yuan Dynasty, Central Plains (China ) is beset on it border by an invading army. The Zhenxi Provincial General Lu Qiang is responsible for sending reinforcements but has made a deal with the invading enemy after receiving gold and jade from them to expand his influence and territory in exchange for not sending reinforcements to the troops protecting the border. The general fighting at the border General Yuan Chonghuan has sent messengers to two locations. One back to the capital to report the incidents to the emperor and another to the leader of the Sun Moon Society Hong Zhong, asking him to investigate the details secretly. He also asked both the emperor and the leader of the Sun Moon Society to encourage General Lu to send reinforcement troops to the border as soon as possible.   

In the meantime our protagonist, Shen Bingyi is sent off by his master to join his elder brother in the martial arts who just happens to be the very same Hong Zhong, chief of the Sun Moon Society. Shen Bingyi's master also used to walk the Jiang Hu and was famous for his weapon of choice which was a folding fan that could project long silver needles at the enemy with amazing accuracy. This weapon he bestowed to Shen Bingyi to carry with him on his adventures while helping his elder brother and the Sun Moon Society "Weed out the wicked and bring peace to the public." This Jin Yong adaptation is the most ambitious yet from Shaw Brothers. With the exception of the earlier dynasty and character details, this script pretty much follows The Book and the Sword in general principle better than any previous adaptations that only adapted a plot or two from the source book. (They also changed "the book" to "a seal" and "the sword" does not exist because there is no gift given to Shen Bingyi from "Princess" Sisi in this movie version).

  The casting is top knotch as far as the mature characters are concerned and this is definitely an all-star cast showing the proper respect for the source material (big ups to Director Kao Li and Script Writer Yuan Chun) but the younger cast members are pretty much newbies. Chang Yi plays Shen Bingyi and his newness to acting shows --don't get me wrong, he doesn't do a bad job but he is not "one" with his character as he becomes in his future roles as a villain. Yue Wai is "SiSi" the older nomad princess and Shu Pei-Pei is "Mengmeng" the younger nomad princess and Lisa Chiao Chiao rounds out the young girls of the story, as she plays the daughter of one of the Sun Moon Society elders. 

Future Star Gazing: you will recognize Cheng Miu, Tien FengYeung Chi Hing,Fang Mien, as well as villains played by Goo Man ChungWong Chung Shungand Tong gaai aka Tang Chia. There are also cameos by Lo LiehWu Ma,Simon Yuen and Yuen Woo Ping and Yuen Cheung Yan I hope it has become apparent that I and trying to reveal as little as possible of the story because even thought it is based on Jin Yong's first novel, The Book and The Sword is also one of his best outside of the Condor Heroes Trilogy. If this is your first experience with this story I know of no greater robbery than to take your experience away telling the story in this poor review. 

I regret to inform my readers that it is reported from Hong Kong that Mr. Tien Fengwhom American audiences first met in March 1973 in the movie FIVE FINGERS OF DEATH as the ill-fated Master Meng has passed away at the age of 87 a few days ago. May he rest in peace.  

FIGHT TIME!:  In THE SILENT SWORDSMAN, martial arts takes a back seat to the plot and characterization. In fact even though Tang Chia, a very capable martial art choreographer is very much in the movie and would have been available, Sir Run Run Shaw (the producer) chose to not have an action director nor credit anyone with the martial arts choreography. Indeed the fight scenes (of which I counted ten and most of them are very short save the big finale) look very ad hoc with the notable exception of the smooth move made by Chang Yi's character that had Yue Wai's character swooning and clearly in love at first fight! That scene, I enjoyed very much --but I digress: this is a retro style of movie making and was very much what Sir Run Run had in mind for his new wuxia genre. I feel, however, fate had other plans that ,in my opinion, made Sir Run Run and Shaw Brothers Studios far more successful than they would have been otherwise. 

There is no way I can call THE SILENT SWORDSMAN (1967) a bad movie even though it is, in my mind, not my stylistic cup of tea, so to speak. It was certainly worth my time watching and there are people not yet born who will also benefit from watching this movie to see the evolution of the way wuxia movies were produced in general and Jin Yong novel adaptations were produced in particular. In addition the role of the action director or martial arts choreographer is greatly emphasized by its absence and so students and collectors of Shaw Brothers and wuxia movies will also benefit from having and viewing this movie. So, did I enjoy it? Yeah, you got me --even though I am one of "those people"that watch kung fu movies for the kung fu, I did enjoy this movie and it made me a greater appreciator of the writing skills on the wuxia author Jin Yong. So, I'll see you next time and then the popcorn is on me!


Saturday, September 12, 2015



This is how it should be done! I noted in my last review the absence of both Jimmy Wang Yu and Chang Cheh in THE THUNDERING SWORD (1967), the Shaw Brothers' adaptation of Jin Yong's Heaven Sword and Dragon Saber. Well now Shaw Brothers is right back with another Jin Yong adaptation. This time, of the even more popular Return of the Condor Heroes  (which is the novel before or prequel to Heaven Sword and Dragon Saber) and they're doing it "Chang Cheh Style"!

Let me be precise about what they are adapting. In Return of the Condor Heroes the main protagonist Yang Guo is adopted by his father's (Yang Kang) blood brother Guo Jing and taken to Peach Blossom Island to live with Guo Jing and his wife and learn kung fu. Guo Jing has three other students one of them being his own daughter: Guo Fu. She loves and hates Yang Guo (it's complicated) and after they become young adults, eventually cuts off his right arm because he slaps her. They go no further than this. 

And now, the movie... Qi Ru Feng is getting old and is feeling it. known as The Magic Swordsman he is the Grand-master of the Golden Sword School and famous throughout the Jiang Hu as a master of his sword technique and teacher to scores of pupils --some of them quite good, but still he has decided to retire. So he has come face to face with the task of choosing a successor to his school and is deciding that the son of an old servant of his, Gang Kang, whose father had saved his life and was killed for his trouble has more than repaid him by being the most promising young student currently at his school. He is also hoping Gang Kang is willing to marry his daughter, Qi Pei-Er, who is not only not skillful enough to take over for him running the school but is in fact, very spoiled and quite willful. He is planning to make his intentions known at his fifty-fifth birthday party. His family, friends and beloved students will all be there to hear him say it is time to him to hang up his sword and no longer travel the Jiang Hu. It was time.

"You may not fight again but there's many things you could learn. To farm, to fish, great many things --it's just a matter of will. You'll learn if you want to."

What a woman, what a woman. She found Gang Kang having fallen in her boat one cold winter's night. His right arm missing and a bloody mess was where his right arm should have been. Instead of being frightened she took him to her village and then to her home and nursed him back to health. She stayed by his side, silently vowing to always be together, if he would have her. 

This is the story of the One-armed swordsman. A time honored classic about people who learn to become something greater than themselves and those of us who fail. 

This fan favorite wuxia novel of Jin Yong was adapted for the silver screen by non other than Chang Cheh himself along with Ni Huang (later spelled I Huang). Ni Huang a respected wuxia novelist himself is also a respected authority on Jin Yong's works and even wrote a list of Jin Yong's novels in the order of his perceived greatness which again and at the risk of being redundant is very well respected. Obviously they did not disappoint. The all-star-cast head by Jimmy Wang Yu does a great job but Wang Yu really out does himself in capturing what a person raised the way Gang Kang was would react to certain stimuli. (For instance the only time he laughs is after he physically humiliates Gou Fu knowing full well he had no intention of harming her but had been wanting to knock her about for some time and yet, the first time he ever calls her "sister" is only after she cuts off his arm!) Chang Cheh perfectly cast his favorite actor in this movie. Well done all!
Future Star Gazing : I really considered skipping this section all together because it would be easier to name the three stars not in this movie than all the rest of the stars that are in it. Suffice it to say everybody is here!

Fight Time! : The fight choreography in ONE-ARMED SWORDSMAN (1967) was done by the superb team of Tong Gaai and Liu Chia-Liang and is so much a part of the story that it should get co-star status. In fact Tong Gaai and Liu Chia-Liang also deserve to be named co-stars for the parts they play in the movie. I countedseven (7) full fight scenes in this movie and they are in half of them. The mirror images of the fighters because the enemy had studied the other's fighting style so perfectly was not lost on me and I understood how the students were at a loss at what to do when they first faced these opponents but the grand-master was not. Great job!

ONE-ARMED SWORDSMAN (1967) is historically significant in being the first million dollar grossing film in Hong Kong. It is also considered by many to mark the style of casting a "anti -hero" in martial arts movies as can be seen in Clint Eastwood type westerns. It is the first film in my collection of Shaw Brothers martial arts movies that has the male lead getting top billing over the women stars! The story line is very strong, it is action packed and the martial art techniques figure into the story as well as the character of both the protagonists and antagonists. This is clearly a must see movie for fans and collectors! It gets my most enthusiastic recommendation! See you next time!



Saturday, September 5, 2015



This wuxia story actually takes place in the "Jiang Hu" which literally is translated to "rivers and lakes" but is what the subculture of the martial world calls itself. Those of the Jiang Hu considers themselves separate and outside of regular society but not so much above it as beyond it. In spite of the goings on and the masters being well known through out the world, it is regarded as totally fictitious by those of mainstream society.

In THE THUNDERING SWORD (1967) the Jiang Hu is concerned about the existence of a sword that "can shatter the world's two precious swords" and is called The Thundering Sword. Many of the martial clans members have begun vicious slaughter in order to get their hands on this powerful weapon in order to have their own way in the martial world. Chief Instructor and High Priest of the Yuan Mountain Clan for his part, has devoted three months of seclusion to divine a way of destroying the sword to bring peace back to the martial world. Failing to find a solution he sends two of his highly skilled students (Yu Chen Wan andChiang Kwun Yuan) down the mountain to find the sword and bring it back so he may examine and replicate the sword and thereby find a way of destroying it, believing that as long as such a sword exist there will be no peace. After leavingBaiyun Temple and descending down Yuan Mountain the two classmates go separate ways and agree to meet up later on. 

Yu Chen Wan's journey down the mountain has him being passed by a lovely swords-woman (So Jiau Jiau) on horseback. Up ahead, and out of his sight she is ambushed by ruffians who demand her sword. She quite viciously and literally whips the hell out of them and uses poison darts to kill them. He catches up to her only to witness the end result. He erroneously accuses her of killing innocents but she clarifies her position as justifiable. Their brief exchange being enough for her to be swept off her feet with his chivalrous demeanor, she still, never the less, gallops off telling him -- her killing or not, is none of his concern. 

We catch up with Chiang Kwun Yuan some miles and time later as it is now nightfall and he is at a grave site stumbling upon some grave robbers entering a tomb. Curiosity gets the best of him as he creeps up behind them inside the tomb to see them robbing the tomb but falling victim to some booby traps inside. He suddenly sees lying on the tomb floor The Thundering Sword which he quickly grabs and negotiates his way back outside past more booby traps to outside the tomb. He plants the sword in the dirt and reaches for the tombstone to replace it and suddenly a whip snares the sword from the dirt and snatches it to the whip's owner who is none other than the very same swords-woman (So Jiau Jiau) met by his classmate earlier. He barely gets out "who are you?" when she flings her poison darts at him and he falls down dropping his clan's defensive coins besides him. Recognizing the coins as belonging to the clan of her newly admired acquaintance she immediately deeply regrets her rash actions and plots to make amends but it is just not her day...  

As far as I know, this is the first attempt by SHAW BROTHERS STUDIOS to adapt a wuxia novel for the big screen for their new wuxia movie genre. the novel they chose was Jin Yong's epic wuxia novel HEAVEN SWORD and DRAGON SABER. To be more precise it is an adaptation of just Zhang Wuji's (the main protagonist) parents' first meeting and love story and goes no further than that. I am going to have to give this first time effort a pass on so many levels for a handful of reasons including being the first attempt. In short, this tiny seed in 1967 is what becomes the mighty oak that is the industry of martial arts movies today in 2015. It has grown so successfully that the industry is still making television and movie and even game adaptations of these writings and characters that to harshly criticize this first attempt is a bit more hypocritical than I can stand. I won't do it. 

THE THUNDERING SWORD (1967) was adapted for the big screen by ProducerRunme Shaw, screen writer Sheng Chiang and directed by Hsu Cheng-Hung. It stars Cheng Pei Pei as So Jiau Jiau, Chang Yi as Yu Chien Wan, and Lo Lieh as Ching Kwun Yuan. Other than Jimmy Wang Yu everybody else that was somebody was in this movie!
(My guess is that Runme Shaw wanted a blank canvas for the starring role so no Jimmy Wang Yu nor his mentor Chang Cheh.)
Future Star Gazing: Shu Pei Pei, Tien Feng, Ku Wen-Chung, Fang Mian, Liu Chia Liang, Liu Chia Yung, Tong Gai, Cliff Lok, Wu Ma, Ku Feng, Chiu Hung, Wong Ching Ho and so many more!

Fight Time!: Liu Chia Liang and Tong Gaai are the action directors for this adaptation for which there are only three (3) fights. The quality of the fights are very good, especially Cheng Pei Pei's fights which are very realistic and look nothing like her fighting from COME DRINK WITH ME (1966). Now again I say, I am going to forego criticism on this first attempt at an adaptation of an epic novel. Needless to say they get it right eventually so there is no need for me to grandstand like I would have done any better my first time at anything.    

THE THUNDERING SWORD (1967) is historically significant and has some dramatic suspense to boot. For these reasons I will strongly recommend the purchase and viewing of this film for collectors, fans and students of this genre. See you next time!