Pan Lia is one of the Shaw directors who is only now coming to notice in the West. He had a limited output of films but he shows a sure hand as well as a distinctive style that might be a surprise to people used to the cruder films that came out of the Shaw studios later.
An excellent yet ruthless swordsman is bested by an 80 year old monk with a smoking pipe. Becoming the monk's servant, the swordsman spends three years in an isolated temple attempting to surmount tasks presented by the monk. Afterwards he returns to life in the outside world but his past reputation as the best sword-fighter in southern China leads to endless challenges. He attempts to give up the life of a martial hero by becoming a stonecutter but new conflict isn't far.
The highlight of this film is the character development that usually lacking in this sort of film. The actors are very good and there is a restraint from theatrical acting. The fights are all shot in close medium shots with time spent showing the tension before any actual contact which actually works very well. Don't expect the martial precision of later films or the cartoonish action.
The director is better known as the writer of some early Jacky Chan films but I was surprised by the assured direction he shows here. I will be looking out for more of his films. Recommended.
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