Sunday, July 26, 2009

My Li Ching Kick Continues

Yes, I had two more Li Ching films in my to-be-watched pile of Shaw Brothers DVD's and here they are!

Vengeance of a Snow Girl

Brian reviewed this film recently but I'm gonna take a stab at it too (mainly since I'm down to my last 10 unwatched Shaw DVD's before my upcoming trip to Hong Kong).

This long film from director Lo Wei stars Li Ching as the crippled daughter, Bing Hong, out to avenge the death of her parents and preserve and protect the Jade Phoenix Sword (which she keeps concealed inside one of her green jade crutches!).

The first half of the film is a lot of fun with Li Ching unleashing the vengeance of the title on the clan of Tien Feng and Ku Feng, her cherubic looks contrasting with her bloodthirstiness.

Bing Hong was hiding in a pool of cold water while her parents were murdered by the clan and now, some 10 years later, she remains crippled from the incident (despite the ability to use some serious wuxia wire fu to mount her horse and leap over her enemies). Yueh Hua falls for the young girl and soon he's convinced his father (Tien Feng) to help cure the girl and fight Ku Feng.

The second half of the film is not nearly as interesting as Yueh Hua and Li Ching set out to steal a magical pearl from a volcano which they need in order to brave the icy wastes of the "north" where Li Ching can be cured by bathing in a hot spring.

The sequence where Yueh Hua and Li Ching don magical armor that looks like the tinfoil spacesuits from an old episode of TV's Lost In Space is campy fun. The two descend into the fiery pit and Yueh Hua gets the pearl and then the two set off for the icy north.

Compared to the earlier Cheng Pei-Pei wuxia films that I've seen, this Lo Wei flick has a bit more wire-work than normal and it begs the question of why Bing Hong needs to get cured if she can leap over enemies already?

Anyway, despite a downbeat, somewhat silly ending -- though it is a poetic -- this remains a fun, if overlong, showcase for Li Ching.

Look for Lisa Chiao Chiao -- who I just saw in The Twelve Gold Medallions -- as the daughter of Ku Feng who refuses to give up on killing Li Ching; funnyman Lee Kwan under some weird make-up is here too, as well as Shaw regular Wong Chung Shun.

Have Sword Will Travel

Well, at least this time Chang Cheh let Li Ching have a few fighting scenes compared to her thankless role in the director's Sword of Swords. Still, compared to Vengeance of a Snow Girl, her character exists only to be rescued by David Chiang's lonely, rouge swordsman.

Ti Lung is from the clan of old, infirmed master Cheng Miu who has some sort of backhistory with the dastardly Ku Feng. I will gladly admit that the plot of this thing didn't seem too clear to me.

David Chiang's rouge swordsman talks more to his horse than he does to Ti Lung or Li Ching. Despite this, the duo takes a liking to him and they then involve him in their quest against Ku Feng.

There's not much plot except for a few fight scenes in different locales and a lot of slow-motion psychological business as David Chiang roams an unfriendly countryside.

I will admit that the final assault on Ku Feng's tower is a thrilling bit of business and I did find myself forgetting my dislike of some of Chang Cheh's films and enjoying this sequence a lot.

That is, until David Chiang's ridiculous death scene.

The action stops a good 10 minutes before the film ends and I thought: "Oh no, now what?" Well, David Chiang literally dies for those final 10 minutes, falling down steps in slow-motion, speaking profundities to Ti Lung, expressing some warm feelings to Li Ching -- even getting on his trusty horse one final time (!) only to fall off.

The whole section begs the question of why villains can be killed by one choice sword swipe from either of the heroes but David Chiang's swordsman endures multiple grievous sword wounds, a hail of arrows worthy of Kurosawa's Throne of Blood, and, yet, he manages to gird himself like he's only got a sprained arm, and stumble out of the castle -- never mind that he fell down the steps in slow-motion just minutes before!

I venture to say that this film would have been unwatchable for me without the presence of the 3 big Shaw stars in the leads. Yes, the castle sequence is a blast, though not nearly as interesting as earlier, less bravura, sequences in wuxia films with Lily Ho and Cheng Pei-Pei.

I'm a bit torn in recommending this film as it's certainly a disappointment for any Li Ching fan. However, the two leads -- especially a young Ti Lung -- are effective and they elevate the film into something interesting despite the pretentious efforts of director Chang Cheh.

The DVD is out-of-print but you can order Vengeance of a Snow Girl on VCD here.

I reviewed the US version of Have Sword Will Travel and you can order that DVD here.

[Pictures courtesy: YesAsia.com, Celestial Pictures]