Written by: Carroll Jenkins on August 24th, 2008
Theatrical Release Date: Hong Kong, 1966
Director: King Hu
Writers: Erh Yang, King Hu
Cast: Cheng Pei Pei, Yang Chi-Ching, Chung Shen Lao, Feng I Wang, Li Yun-Chung, Yueh Hua, Chen Hung Lieh, Mars
DVD released: May 27th, 2008
Approximate running time: 95 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Sound: Dolby Digital mono Mandarin, Dolby Digital 5.1 English
Subtitles: English, Spanish
DVD Release: Dragon Dynasty
Region Coding: Region 1 NTSC
Retail Price: $19.97
Synopsis: A ruthless bandit gang kidnaps a politician’s son to trade for their condemned leader. His sister comes disguised as his brother to offer the criminals a chance to surrender themselves.
There are two big action set pieces that are well executed: the kidnapping at the beginning, and the prisoner exchange near the end. King Hu did introduce an off-cadence rhythm for the choreography rather than the 1-2-1-2 common in old school Hong Kong film. These two fights are both effective and gory for the period. Otherwise the action sequences are cheats comprised of stop motion, under cranking, backwards effects, slow motion, and wire work. The most common and offensive situation is this: the standoff between opponents, quick close-up cut to swords clashing, and then cut back to people rolling on the floor all dead. The action is all implied rather than shown. Add in people running straight up the sides of buildings, breaking boulders with green light from their fingers, and shooting magical power (freon) out their sleeves, and suspension of disbelief is left at the concession stand.
This film was one of the first with a feminine action hero, though she does prove to be largely ineffective and must be saved by the real hero of the piece, Drunken Cat. He says about an hour in that everything she has done to that point has been a complete waste, and it’s true (due to the script, not her performance). The comic book styled villains are interesting, and the cute orphans get to sing for their food with Drunken Cat several times.
The DVD is a nice anamorphic presentation that we have come to expect from Dragon Dynasty. Commentary and features are provided. Chang Pei-Pei is still a beauty and relates her fond memories of the production. It is revealed that some serious burns resulted from the freon “magic gas” sequences.
This film is heralded as a milestone in the development of martial arts film. Certainly it did blaze the trail for female protagonists such as Angela Mao and Michelle Yeoh. It also wrote the book for martial arts performed through the joint efforts of the Director Of Photography and the Chief Editor.