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DRAGON SWAMP (1969) is a costume fantasy adventure from Hong Kong's
Shaw Bros. studio that offers a quaint tale involving a stolen sword,
torn families and a mystical swamp region with all kinds of fantastic
menaces to threaten the uninitiated. There is some martial arts
swordplay but not enough to call this an action film. Directed by Lo
Wei, it seems positively old-fashioned when placed against the "heroic
bloodshed" films that Chang Cheh was making at Shaw at the same time,
such as GOLDEN SWALLOW, which also stars Cheng Pei Pei. Yet DRAGON
SWAMP remains a charming and delightful film and one which looks
forward to the more hyperactive swordplay fantasies that Chor Yuen
would direct for the studio in the late 1970s (e.g. THE MAGIC BLADE,
KILLER CLANS, CLANS OF INTRIGUE, and DEATH DUEL, all of which are also
reviewed on this site).
The real draw of this film is the lovely performance of Cheng Pei Pei, who plays both a naive young martial arts student venturing out into the world for the first time on an assignment to retrieve the stolen Jade Dragon Sword and her own mother, who had given her as an infant to her taoist kung fu master to raise. The split screen work in their reunion scenes is flawless. The character of a traveling swordswoman dressed as a man is something of a cliché in these films, yet every actress who plays it always manages to bring something new and exciting to the part and Cheng is no exception. Check out that sweet little smirk she gives as she sits in a gambling hall with assorted rowdy swordsmen. Later, in the film's action highlight, she is ambushed in a roadside restaurant inn by a host of incognito villains and she fights them off with great style.
Yueh Hua appears as a swordsman who once loved the mother. He helps the daughter negotiate her way through the obstacles blocking the route to the Swamp Master's Great Hall in Dragon Swamp. (Wait till you see those rampaging giant "dragons.") The always dependable Lo Lieh plays the thief who initially steals the sword and hides a secret of his own. Ku Feng plays a good guy for a change and Fan Mei-Sheng and Han Ying Chieh are among the scoundrels who ambush Pei Pei in the inn. The production is quite sumptuous with a lyrical music score, beautiful sets and costumes and picturesque locations in some scenes.
Pei Pei Cheng has an indescribable beauty in this film, which is
fitting, because the film itself is one of indescribable beauty.
It's set a martial arts films, but engages in sword and sorcery more, in old fashioned de Mille beauty and landscape.
There are some of the usual impossible acrobatics which are common to too many martial arts films, but not enough to detract from the beauty of the film and story. Just enough for a nice balance, without boring us with silly acrobatics every second.
Even on a small screen, the scenery is vivid and stunning. In a cinema, it is absolute splendor and power.
The story involves a stolen sword of power, but more than that, it involves a broken family, betrayal, forgiveness, love, great emotions, and great theatrics. The drama could just as well play out on a stage, with mesmerizing amazement on the script and acting alone. With the added beauty of the color and costumes, and of a perfect Pei Pei, it is pure Paradise. Pei Pei dazzles us with beauty in appearance and movement, and the camera work is amazing. On the other hand, no woman in the world should ever have to live up to the perfection of Pei Pei. We have found the perfect female beauty.
This is what a martial arts film should be. This is the pinnacle.
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