Saturday, June 20, 2009

The Twelve Gold Medallions

The Twelve Gold Medallions

Wow, if only all wuxia films were like this! A thoroughly entertaining, clever, and fast-paced adventure with a chivalrous Yueh Hua out to intercept the traitorous Cheng Miu before he delivers 12 gold medallions to prevent the success of an opposition force to invading Tartar warriors in the Sung Dynasty (whew!).

Add to this, Cheng Miu's one daughter, played superbly by a feisty (as always) Chin Ping who's engaged to Yueh Hua's hero.

The film is a swift series of skirmishes between various clans and kung fu schools in the "martial arts world" and if it sometimes seems a bit confusing, the action keeps a viewer entertained.

Chin Ping has a wonderful fight scene that borders on a Chinese acrobatic routine with the Bingling Trio of warriors led by Fan Mei Sheng, the Battle-Axe from The Shaw Brothers classic, The Water Margin. The sequence is admittedly not as fancy as the wire fu that is routine nowadays but the limitations of the era must have made the filmmakers exercise a bit more invention and wit as the scene is every bit as exciting and funny as anything I've seen in any recent pseudo-wuxia film -- even if it's clearly a dummy of Chin Ping's body being thrown about by Fan Mei Sheng!

The actress' other great scene is when she's been rescued by Yueh Hua and thinks that he's broken the engagement due to finding a broken jade bracelet that she had given him. As he attempts to heal the poison-dart-infirmed Chin Ping, the stoic Yueh Hua makes some comment about throwing away a handkerchief she had given him and leaves the room.

Chin Ping has an almost stereotypical Chin Ping-kind-of-moment where she spins into a minor tempter tantrum -- dunking a pillow in a water dish -- and starts to wreck the room only to stop as the music swells and she sees the handkerchief jutting out from Yueh Hua's cloak.

The look that passes over Chin Ping's face is sublime and illustrates precisely why these Shaw wuxia films are so good: it's not just action and not just complicated plots but a combination of all of the elements of excellent character-driven historical action. Without solid context and strong characters, a film like this *is* nothing more than "people flying and fighting."

This film was so much fun that I don't think I can sit through another Wang-Yu bloodfest after this!

It's worth noting the famous cast and crew: Director Ching Gong is the father of famous director/action choreographer, Ching Siu-Tung; various villains are assayed by Wong Chung Shun, Yeung Chi Hing, and Ku Feng; and the kindly Goo Man Chung has the climatic battle with Chin Ping's father that prefigures Obi-Wan Kenobi battling Darth Vader in Star Wars (well, it seemed to for this child of the 1970's, at least!).

The DVD is one of the early Shaw re-issues and, as such, it's not anamorphic -- not sure if it could have been -- but it looked less blurry than some of those early releases (it is a 1970 film after all). And there is an original trailer, the re-issue trailer, as well as a 12-minute interview with cinematographer Arthur Wong about the Shaw style of shooting as well as a 19-minute interview with Taiwanese actress Chiao Chiao who played Chin Ping's sister in the film.

(Chiao Chiao mentions her marriage to the ex-husband of Laam Dai and *I think* she said that it was Wong Chung Shun who played the villainous Golden Whip in this film.)

You can order The Twelve Gold Medallions on DVD here.

[Photos: YesAsia/Celestial Pictures]