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THE FLYING DAGGER Middling Shaw Bros. swordplay adventure
THE FLYING DAGGER (1969) has two fine stars in Lo Lieh and Cheng Pei Pei and is somewhat redeemed by a love story in its final third, but remains a lesser effort from top-ranked Shaw Bros. director Chang Cheh that suffers from a run-of-the-mill script about warring clans. As Yu Ying, Cheng Pei Pei is a righteous swordswoman who kills a rapist-murderer in a pre-credits sequence (having gotten there too late to actually prevent the rape and murder), incurring the wrath of the miscreant's father, a villain who heads the Green Dragon Clan and wields some lethal throwing knives. The Clan targets Cheng Pei Pei's family and forces them to go on the run. Eventually, as the beleaguered family members try to protect Cheng's wounded father in a remote inn, the Green Dragon Clan closes in. Only the intervention of Yang Qing (Lo Lieh), a lone knife fighter, on the side of the good guys, prevents total disaster.
The fight scenes involving swordplay and abundant knife throwing are consistently entertaining and occasionally bloody, but rather simply staged (by Tang Chia and Lau Kar Leung) and not terribly imaginative. Fortunately, things take a romantic turn in the final third and Cheng Pei Pei and Lo Lieh begin to share some tender, emotional scenes that distinguish the film from most Cheng Pei Pei vehicles of the period. These are good actors, with strong chemistry, and these scenes managed to finally get me engaged with the film. On those occasions when he had the opportunity to play a romantic lead, Lo Lieh was quite good at it. These two also co-starred in THE LADY HERMIT and their characters were in love there as well. Lo also loved Cheng in GOLDEN SWALLOW (1968), also directed by Chang Cheh (and also reviewed on this site). But in that film, Cheng was a much more formidable character and was more devoted to a rogue hero named Silver Roc, played by Jimmy Wang Yu, which created more interesting layers of escalating dramatic tension than we get in this film.
Shaw Bros. veteran Yang Chih-ching, who normally played older officials or patriarchs in these films, plays the head of the Green Dragon Clan, one of a handful of action roles I've seen him do. (He was only about 50 here.) Ching Miao plays Cheng's father. Various familiar kung fu faces pop up, including Cheng Lei, Wong Kwong-Yue, Ku Feng, Cliff Lok, Wu Ma, Yuen Cheung-Yan, Lau Kar Wing and, in a small role as a fighter for Cheng Pei Pei's clan, David Chiang, who would move up to major roles in Chang Cheh's DEAD END and HAVE SWORD WILL TRAVEL the same year.
On the Celestial R3 DVD of this film, one of the special features indicates that the film was shot in Japan and includes a still showing Mount Fuji in the background. While there are a couple of unusual location shots that could indeed have been shot in Japan (none of which show Mount Fuji), most of the film is clearly shot on the Shaw studio's familiar soundstages and backlots in Hong Kong.
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