In the 1963 wuxia movie of the same name, the Goddess’ Sword is a powerful jian bequeathed by a master to his best student, and lusted after by another student of the school, played by Shek Kin. Shek and his gang break into his siheng’s house, kill him and set a fire to conceal their crime. They are unable to find the sword. Two visiting masters, friends of the murdered man, separately rescue his family from the fire, one leading the older daughter to safety through the flames in one direction and the other taking the widow and youngest two children in another. (Watching the child actors making their way through the burning sets and cowering behind the slashing swords of the adults is an eye-opening reminder that safety standards of the time were considerably more lax than today’s, and also that the stunt crews obviously had a great deal of confidence in their ability to control the situation.) Shek Kin returns home and boasts of his deed to his wife, who is horrified and urges him to confess to the authorities. Enraged, he abandons his family and remarries into a beggar clan.
Wuxia sweethearts Walter Tso Tat-wah and Yu So-chau.
Years later, all the children have grown up and set out in search of the Goddess’ Sword. Yu So-chau is the oldest daughter and a cross-dressed Connie Chan plays her young brother, now a stranger to her. Tso Tat-wah plays Shek’s oldest son. Each is introduced in a way that exhibits their martial expertise: Yu is first seen practicing straight sword fencing, Chan and her younger sister are performing a charming sword dance, and Tso handily deflects a knife flung in challenge by his younger sister. When they all converge on the gate of the city, they are accosted by the beggars, led by Shek’s son and daughter from his second marriage, an ill-mannered, unsightly pair. The ensuing combat includes some mighty fine straight sword choreography executed by Yu, in shots that go on as long as 13-14 seconds and see her fighting three or four opponents in rapid sequence. Her footwork is deft, her blocks and strikes rapid, and she spins and coils around the sticks used by the beggars without giving them an opening to retaliate.
In fact, all of the actors really shine in this sequence. The young actress playing Chan’s sister loses her sword early in the fight, but wrests a three-section staff from one of her foes and manipulates the difficult weapon smoothly and gracefully. Tso and Shek square off with straight sword versus stick. In beautifully crafted sequences like this one, it’s possible to trace the evolution of opera choreography into real Hong Kong action direction. It’s my favorite part of the film.
Flyer from A GODDESS SWORD, aka HEAVENLY SWORD (1963). Directed by Ling Wan. Starring Yu So-chau, Walter Tso Tat-wah, Connie Chan Po-chu, and Shek Kin.
Other highlights include a variation on the classic “fight in the dark” from the opera “Meeting at the Crossroads,” and excellent stunt doubling in the fight between two masked actors later in the film. In this case, the necessity of hiding the identity of the characters allowed the stunt crew to pump up the choreography with impressive speed and fluidity. It’s possible that one of the stuntmen is none other than future Shaw studio action ace Tong Kai (Tong Gaai, Tang Chia), who is also credited in a small supporting role.
One of the joys to be found in exploring these old films is the window they give into the world of filmmaking in mid-20th century Hong Kong. Minor flubs and mistakes survived the editing process because it was just too expensive to reshoot. Keeping that in mind, Madame Fen Juhua’s choreography in A GODDESS’ SWORD, especially as seen in Yu So-chau’s swordplay, is a marvel of action, live without a net and uncut.
Watch a fight scene from A GODDESS’ SWORD here:
This entry was originally posted on Feb. 2, 2007. Read Part 1 of “An Appreciation of the Screen Fighting of Yu So-chau.”
Shek Kin • Walter Tso • Yu So-chow