Screen beauty Li Ching is a crippled swordswoman armed with the martial world’s most deadly weapon, the Jade Phoenix Sword, and burning hot enmity for four martial elders responsible for the deaths of her parents. What begins as a violent (and routine) act of head-cleaving vengeance becomes a highly engaging quest for redemption as she joins a compassionate swordsman (Yueh Hua) in seeking out a cure for her disability as her icy heart begins to thaw and her enemies close in.
This was writer-director Lo Wei’s final movie for Shaw Brothers before he jumped ship to join former studio exec Raymond Chow at his fledgling Golden Harvest studios to famously helm Bruce Lee’s first two films. It’s an excellent old school wuxia film with a strong cast of stock actors from both studios that requires a little patience at the start but gradually pays off with tense action and drama amid unusual, colorful sets and picturesque outdoor locales. There are a number of things that make this film stand out from the standard swordplay movie of the era. One of these is Li Ching’s character Shen Bing-hong who is crippled from the waist down. In order to be a threat, she is able to channel her qi energy in order to glide over the ground with the aid of jade crutches, one of which doubles as a sheath for the Jade Phoenix Sword. The revenge theme is hopelessly clichéd but thankfully the script only uses this as a starting point for what becomes an enjoyable fantasy quest very much in the tradition of classic wuxia storytelling.
Gao Tin-ying (Yueh Hua), the son of one of Bing-hong’s targets, falls in love with her and after quelling her anger, offers to aid the swordswoman in seeking out a cure for her paralyzed legs. It’s a dangerous and complicated mission that involves stealing Heat Resistant Armour from the Prince of Ping Nan (James Tien) to brave the fires of the Volcano of Nan Hai in order to procure a rare pearl capable of safeguarding its owner from the severe cold surrounding a unique hot spring that can bring life back to Bing-hong’s legs. As the two heroes, initially accompanied by Tin-ying’s brother (Paul Chung), begin their journey, a less magnanimous swordsman (Ku Feng) trails the two with a band of fighters led by his spiteful daughter (Chiao Chiao) with the intention of killing Bing-hong and claiming the Jade Phoenix Sword for themselves. After a series of adventures, the two heroes face off against their pursuers at the hot spring for a satisfyingly bittersweet conclusion.
It’s a great genre showcase for actress Li Ching while Yueh Hua is relegated to a complimentary yet rather bland co-starring role. The rest of the cast fills out stock roles suitable for the story but not memorable. Of note, screen action legend Sammo Hung makes a rare onscreen appearance in a Shaw Brothers film as a fighter who briefly tussles with Li Ching. Quality fantasy sword action is choreographed by Simon Hsu (INTIMATE CONFESSIONS OF A CHINESE COURTESAN) and interestingly by James Tien, best known for his supporting role as Bruce Lee’s elder martial arts brother in FIST OF FURY. This is the first of only a handful of films the actor had a hand in action directing. There is a lot of well-concealed wirework and unusual weapons combat, both of which compliment the story. Li Ching looks to have spent a lot of time being pulled around on a hidden dolly to simulate her ability to float just above the ground. It has a creepy element to it that Lo Wei could have used to make her intentionally appear more menacing but he keeps her abilities somewhat understated. Some of the live effects work is unconvincing, particularly the corpses and a freezing effect. However, this doesn’t seriously detract from an otherwise entertaining production worth tracking down.
Chiao Chiao • Genre: Wuxia • Ku Feng • Li Ching • Lo Wei • Sammo Hung • Shaw Brothers • Vengeance of a Snow Girl (1971) • Yueh Hua