Sunday, August 2, 2009

The Silent Swordsman

The Silent Swordsman (1967)

A swift-moving 94-minute romp that had less to do with Chang Yi's titular swordsman and more to do with treachery on China's border, The Silent Swordsman was a pleasant surprise for this viewer.

Kung Fu Cinema has a thorough review that covers the plot and the historical significance of the setting. But, like with most of the Shaw wuxia films from this era, historical accuracy is not the priority of the filmmakers; it's like expecting historical accuracy from an Errol Flynn pirate picture.

No, the priority is a fun film and -- for the most part -- The Silent Swordsman delivers.

In a nutshell: barbarians are invading the country and warlords on the border are refusing to send for troops to protect the country. Instead, the warlords are hatching deals with the goal of becoming stronger despots in the future. Chang Yi wasn't even in the first third of the film as the action centered mainly on the clans and a series of double-crosses. Eventually, Chiao Chiao's noble father is ambushed and he flees only to seek solace in the compound of Tien Feng's Master Wu. Wu's little son soon betrays the hiding place of the nobleman to the dastardly Wong Chung Shun who has been pursuing the man across the countryside.

Chang Yi's Shen Bingyi and Daiyun (Chiao Chiao) are dispatched on a mission by the leader of the Sun Moon Club (Yeung Chi Hing) to gather support, presumably.

At this point, the film takes on a lighter tone as Chang Yi spies the skinnydipping daughter of Uighur (I think) chieftain Cheng Miu. There's a surprising (for 1967) bit of rear nudity of the daughter, Mengmeng (Shu Pei-Pei). But Mengmeng is not the only attractive Uighur girl: she has an older sister, Sisi (Shirley Hui/Yue Wai). There are a few songs, a feast, and some tiny bits of comedy as the two sisters soon both vie for the affections of Chang Yi's swordsman.

Eventually, Sisi becomes a nun to allow her younger sister more of a chance with the hero, which interjects some sudden drama into this section of the film.

The film is a weird mix of history and action. I think the brisk running time probably helps to keep things interesting. Those expecting Chang Cheh-style swordfighting are in for a disappointment. There are action scenes but the focus seems more on the larger plot and less on the prowess of any participants in the proceedings.

Look for Shaw regular Goo Man Chung as a duplicitous warlord.

And Lo Lieh makes an appearance in the final two minutes of the film.

Like other Shaw films of this era, the ending comes rather abruptly -- I found myself asking: "How can they wrap up all this if there's only 3 minutes left in the film?"

You can order The Silent Swordsman on DVD here.