Saturday, December 26, 2015



THE FASTEST SWORD (1968) is our last movie for 1968.  Sir Run Run Shaw produced this beauty written and directed by Pan Lei. Most reviewers say THE FASTEST SWORD (1968) is an adaptation of  THE GUNFIGHTER (1950) directed by Henry King but I found at least one reviewer that feels it is more akin to THE FASTEST GUN ALIVE (1956) directed by Russell Rouse. After watching both movies from start to finish it is clear that, in fact, both movies strongly influenced Pan Lei's script and a couple of scenes in both movies show up in THE FASTEST SWORD (1968). So there's no need to pick one over the other because it is not at all unusual for a director/writer to have multiple influences affect his work in addition to having his own ideas on how he wanted to move a project. Let's check out the plot.  

In the Jiang Hu, Ding Menghao is a very good swordsman. So good that he earned for himself the title: "Sword of the South". It wasn't long before he had earned another title for himself, the title of "Fastest Sword". He earned this title by winning duels. He won by killing his opponents in these duels without mercy.  Ding Menghao was a man who valued skills. Ding Menghao was a man that valued titles. Ding Menghao was not a man who valued human life. But Ding Menghao would meet a man who would change him and teach him to value human life but it would take some time. 

Ding Menghao wondered how long the old monk had been there watching him. He had certainly been there when the remaining three Zhongzhou Swordsmen came because he critiqued Menghao's  swordplay and was not altogether pleased with his style of killing. How did the old monk know about fighting? Did he used to be a swordsman? The old monk was certainly exceptionally skilled. Menghao did not even see him move let alone see the strike that left the impression of the old monk's pipe on the front of his garment. Because of that strike and his wager with the old monk Menghao had spent three whole years with him in the temple. 

Strange though, how the old monk didn't seem to really want anything more from him than his time. In fact, often the old monk would leave him alone for months at a time. First Menghao meditated, but was dissatisfied, so the monk suggested that Menghao transcribe scriptures, but again Menghao found dissatisfaction. The monk then suggested making something out of a huge rock and the old monk said that it didn't matter what it was but it must be something that Menghao liked. "Smaller", "smaller", the old monk said, after Menghao's first two attempts but the third sculpture seemed to satisfy the old monk and then the three years were up. The three years had passed rather painlessly. So strange... Never mind though, Menghao was free now. he could go back into the world, back to his life.

Ding Menghao returned to his village and so did the challenges for his title and the deaths. In less than three months there were at least twelve deaths. Oddly though, Ding Menghao was no longer unaffected by the killing. Why are they throwing their lives away just for a title?  If only, he could stop the killings... the rest of the movie is his journey and his fate. 

Liu Ping is Ding Menghao and is an excellent actor, especially skilled with his facial expressions and is believable as the south sword: a passionless killer. This is his movie. Liu Wai plays the old monk and is never mentioned by name. Chu Jing is Liu Qing Er, the daughter of the martial village chief. The big bad villain is played by Li Kuan-Chang as Flying Centipede, 
HONORABLE MENTION: Gao Ming does a fine job as Qiu Yixing the Northern Sword

FIGHT TIME: There is no fight choreographer credited for THE FASTEST SWORD (1968) so that lowers my expectation for the fight scenes, however, that being said, there are moments of brilliance during some of the duels that I really appreciated.  Director Pan Lei has given us a truly "Eastern, Western" in the fight choreography. I counted eight (8) action scenes with many of them short duels which yielded a interestingly paced movie. Showing a high level of martial arts skill is very difficult for martial arts experts so the director  Pan Lei is to be commended. 

THE FASTEST SWORD (1968) has laid open for us the eastern philosophies of life and death with this multi faceted script. I watched this film multiple times, which is my standard operating procedure to research the film so I may review it accurately, yet the third and fourth times I watched it I observed that even the silence (as in many Japanese films) held volumes of expression. As for the western influence, not only did it not spoil the message but punctuated that the philosophies herein were universal making for a classic film. So it should come as no surprise that I am recommending THE FASTEST SWORD (1968) to all viewers and collectors alike. See you next time!

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Saturday, December 19, 2015



HO MENG-HUA co-writes (with YIP YAT-FONG) and directs THE JADE RAKSHA (1968)a unique wuxia tale that asks the question: "When is revenge, justice and when is it not?" Produced by RUNME SHAW this film has plenty of action but no action director is credited. Let's look at the plot.

The wail of The Jade Raksha is a song of the hell spawn demon-woman  promising the wicked that they will not go unpunished for their crimes against heaven. If you are evil, you know this song spells your doom.

Leng Qiu Han is The Jade Raksha. When she was a child, one of the 20 Yan Clan masters killed her whole family -- but her problem is, she does not know which one. Her solution is simple: kill them all. 

For 6 months Xu Ying Hao has been traveling the Jiang Hu searching for one Shi Yong San, the man his mother told him murdered his father twenty years ago. Along his travels he hears about The Jade Raksha who has been killing the heads of the Yan Clan and hanging their heads up in the various village squares where the individual Yans lived. Xu Ying Hao feels this is too cruel and extreme for it to be justice. The Jade Raksha should restrict her killing to the individual responsible for a specific wrong doing. And so, even though the matter has nothing to do with him, Xu Ying Hao feels he must get involved and confront The Jade Raksha. This is their story.

The lovely Cheng Pei-Pei is back as Leng Qiu Han aka The Jade Raksha and Shaw Brother's top leading man Tang Ching is Xu Ying Hao her counterpart in this philosophical tale of at "what price revenge?" The bad guys are represented by veteran actor  Yeung Chi-Hing as Master Yan Tian Long and Fan Mei-sheng plays his son Yan Long Er.
HONORABLE MENTION: The very talented Ku Feng plays Jiang Man Leung and Shi Yong San.

FIGHT TIME: THE JADE RAKSHA (1968) has no credited action director but its fights are easy to follow, although a little wild. They are very much par for 1968 and so are pretty cool to watch. I counted four (4) full fight scenes plus some small skirmishes so there is no shortage of action. 

HONORABLE MENTION: Sammo Hung Kam-Bo and James Tien have roles as stuntmen in this movie. I actually found James Tien by accident (!) while looking for Sammo as James Tien is not credited but I think you will agree after seeing the screen shot it is definitely him. 

THE JADE RAKSHA (1968) is a unique wuxia tale because it is not a story about a revenge but is a story about revenge told through the eyes of two people, both seeking revenge and showing how it affects their lives, their loved ones and the lives of the people they seek to take revenge on . I have deliberately told very little of the story (except for the details of Leng Qiu Han which I looked for it but it just wasn't there) because it is a well crafted story that builds on its parts and it is worth your time to see it for yourself.  
I absolutely recommend THE JADE RAKSHA (1968) for all viewers and collectors of all ages! See you next time!

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Saturday, December 12, 2015



Sir Run Run Shaw brings back writer/director Lo Wei fresh off his hit film BLACK BUTTERFLY (1968) and Lo Wei delivers DEATH VALLEY (1968) a twisted tale of ambition filled with interesting characters. Han Ying-Chieh spices up the drama as the action choreographer his previous work for Shaw Brothers being COME DRINK WITH ME (1966) also as action choreographer. Let's check out the plot. 

Chiu Jien Ying has lived in Chiu Mansion located in Death Valley with her uncle Master Chiu and his students. Even though she is not the best martial artist there (that honor goes to Master Chiu's body guard, Lau Yuen Hawk) she is still the most senior and so, even though she is female, she had reasoned that her uncle, as he was getting on in his years, would eventually leave all his assets to her, being the only blood relative living in the mansion.

Unfortunately Master Chiu has sent for his nephew, Chiu Yu Lung, to "take over his affairs" and has no intention of turning over anything to Chiu Jien Ying, as she is "after all a girl". Shortly after having this conversation with her uncle Jien Ying persuades her lover and classmate Lam Hung to go along with her assassination plot involving Lau Yuen Hawk, her uncle's body guard. When Lam Hung voices misgivings about trusting such a skilled martial artist with this plan she tells Lam "Let me handle him" What Jien Ying has in mind is to handle yet another man in her life, her childhood friend Jin Fu, a famous swordsman known as "The Cold-faced Master", and the owner of an equally famous sword. Handling all of these men is how Chiu Jien Ying plans to get what she wants. 

Chiu Yu Lung is headed to Chiu Mansion in Death Valley to help his Uncle settle his affairs as his uncle, Master Liu is getting on in years. On his way there Yu Lung has several chance meetings with thugs, cheats, an impressionable young man and a master swordsman named Jin Fu. In cementing his friendship with Jin Fu, Yu Lung exchanges weapons with him because, in part, of Jin Fu's gratitude for Yu Lung saving Jin Fu's life from an ambush. This sword Yu Lung receives from Jin Fu returns Yu Lung's favor by causing a case of mistaken identity that allows Yu Lung to discover Jien Ying's plot to take his life. From here it gets verrry interesting. 

Angela Yu Chien is cast as the star of our show, Chiu Jien Ying a "girl" wronged or no? You decide. Yueh Hua is Chiu Yu Lung a very, very, very lucky man. Chen Hung-Lieh is Jin Fu a "heroic" swordsman to whom killing is not a problem. Chen Hung-Lieh is perfectly cast as "The Cold-faced Master, we rarely see Chen Hung-Lieh cast as a good guy.

HONORABLE MENTION: Lee Kwan as Er Toe Chi bringing a well welcomed comic relief to DEATH VALLEY (1968)

FIGHT TIME: Han Ying-Chieh is the action director for DEATH VALLEY (1968) I think we all remember him as the "why did you kill my teacher" guy in CHINESE CONNECTION (1972) and I sort of forgot he was also an action director. His choreography is not bad if you can understand what I mean by, wild but still detailed. There is also some under-cranking in spots but over-all he is "par for the course" in terms of 60's action scenes. I counted seven (7) fight scenes in a very interesting movie that is thoroughly enjoyable. Nothing to be disappointed about.

HONORABLE MENTION: You can spot SAMMO HUNG KAM-BO as a stuntman in the early part of the film. Yes, I included a screenshot. 

DEATH VALLEY (1968) is a very entertaining production and I don't who is responsible for the cheese cake or as it is called in anime circles fan-service but I can't say it didn't add to the main plot of the film. I mean, I don't know about murder, but I certainly would be "motivated" to cooperate with her on a "special project". So, yes I am wholly recommending DEATH VALLEY (1968) for viewing by fans and collectors alike! See you next time!

If you liked this review please comment on the blog, become a follower of the blog, join me on my Facebook account by sending me a message first and then a friend request so I know who I am friending (   ) and like my Facebook page: SHAW Brothers Kung Fu Movies 1965-1986. I thank you and would appreciate it very much!


Saturday, December 5, 2015



Producer Runme Shaw has assembled the usual cast and crew that works with Chang Cheh including Tang Chia and Liu Chia-Liang as action directors and has replaced him with Cheng Kang to script and direct a Greek tragedy of a tale entitled THE SWORD OF SWORDS (1968). Once it gets going this wuxia tale reminds me of the biblical tale of Job. Let's jump right in and examine the plot. 

In the year 1,000 B.C. during the Sung Dynasty,  Meng Yao Chi, a master sword-smith used the best metals available and forged a sword ten years in the making. It was known as The Sword of Swords. When China was invaded by the state of Liao, Meng Yao Chi presented this sword to General Meng Liang and General Meng Liang used the sword to win battle after battle defending China, gaming fame for the sword. After General Meng's death The Sword of Sword was lost for a time until it was rediscovered during the Ming Dynasty in the possession of Master Swordsman Mui Lingchuen. The prince of a nearby barbarian tribe (during the Ming Dynasty this usually meant Mongolian) coveted the sword and dispatched a entrusted warrior, Shang Guangwu to acquire it. 

Shang Guangwu is dispatched to acquire The Sword of Swords from Master Mui. Shang Guangwu is persuaded by Fang Shishiung to conspire to decieve Master Mui rather than try to take the sword by force. They are successful in that Master Mui takes Fang Shishiung as his first student but Master Mui starts a formal school and has several students. Of all the students in the school the only concern for Fang Shishiung is his Fifth Brother: Lin Jenshiau. Although Lin Jenshiau is a meek and reserved character Fang Shishiung is rightly concerned because Lin Jenshiau has superior skills to Fang. And now, Master Mui has decided to buck tradition and give The Sword of Swords not to the most senior student but to the winner of the school tournament as the best fighter. 

Not wanting The Sword of Swords, Lin Jenshiau tries to throw his match with Fang Shishiung but Master Mui sees through this ruse and insist they fight again but Fang says no need, he will concede defeat and give The Sword of Swords to Lin Jenshiau BUT this is a ruse as well and once the sword is in his hands he gloats that he is the better man and has won. Lin fights with Fang again to protect Master Mui and The Sword of Swords breaks! It is a fake. Master Mui has foreseen through this ruse as well and commands Lin to kill Fang but Lin lets him run off. Master Mui lectures Lin and tells him that although he has let Fang go, Fang will never let go of his attempt to acquire The Sword of Swords and then, the film get serious. The sh*t that Fang and Shang Guangwu (remember him, Fang's boss?) put Lin through to try to acquire The Sword of Sword is really what this movie is all about and is enough to put anyone into therapy. 

Huang Chung-Hsin plays Shang Guangwu as a depraved, evil, lackey-in-charge who doesn't think it unless you tell him to, dispatched by a barbarian prince to acquire (read steal) The Sword of Swords. The Late Tien Feng masterfully plays Fang Shishiung as an ice-cold, twisted villian who as a child must have pulled wings off of butterflies just to watch them try to fly and is the real mastermind of the hell planned for anyone who stands between him and The Sword of Swords

Cheng Miu plays Master Swordsman Mui Lingchuen owner of the sword, who has to keep it from falling into the wrong hands. Jimmy Wang Yu is Lin Jenshiau, the hero, that for me, personally, I hate with a passion! The do-everything-to-me-and-my family until even Mother Teresa would have had your head on a stick- Hero that could have ended this sh*t long ago with one proper swing of the sword --but that's just me. There are Shaw Brother loyalists that I have heard love this film, ("it's a classic") and honestly I don't hate it, either, there are just a few plot holes that, the more you love Shaw Brothers the more you can over look the flaws.
HONORABLE MENTION: Li Ching as Jenshiau's wife Bai Feng for putting up with what could have been much worse.

FIGHT TIME: The team of Tang Chia and Liu Chia-Liang are the fight choreographers for THE SWORD OF SWORDS (1968). I counted 5 (five) fight scenes in the movie including the totally worth the whole movie finale that was worthy of these gentlemen getting co-plotters credits (however they don't do that in movies only in comic books). Liu Chia-Liang did a cameo as 2nd brother and a stunt double on the 720 blade attack during the inter-class tournament --sweet!

What we have here, is a successful communication. One of the fundamental rules of public writing is to never give in to using profanity. I violated this rule twice! I so disliked the character of the protagonist that I was literally yelling at the monitor like we did at the movie theater back in the days of 42nd Street. So, was this a good movie? It was a great movie quite simply because this is what a movie is supposed to do. Move you emotionally.  Kudos to Cheng Kang,  we indeed have another Shaw Brothers Classic Production that I wholeheartedly recommend to viewers and collectors alike. See you next time!