LADY OF STEEL Cheng Pei Pei as swordswoman in multiple guises
LADY OF STEEL is a standard revenge tale of a child trained in martial arts who grows to adulthood to avenge the death of her parents. Directed by Ho Meng-hua (THE LADY HERMIT), it's a lesser Cheng Pei Pei vehicle with a weaker than usual script, but it's short (84 min.), filled with action, and painless to watch. The star plays a swordswoman named Ying Qi who, at the request of the priest who trained her, joins the Flying Dragon Clan, which seeks to root out the traitors who are trying to sell out China to the invading Jins from the north. Ying Qi is seeking just such a traitor who killed her parents when she was a child. Little does she know that this same traitor, Han Shi Xiong, has infiltrated this same clan under a new identity. To make matters worse, he recognizes her almost immediately and secretly tries to have her killed at the earliest opportunity. When that fails he plants evidence in her belongings to discredit her and lead to false accusations of treason. When she flees the camp, she finds that her only allies are in the widespread Beggars Clan. Having already befriended their leader, Qin Shang Yi, she seeks him out.
The story's not terribly intricate, but it does give Cheng Pei Pei a rare opportunity to take on different disguises which is always fun to watch because she does it so well. After she's fled the clan after the false accusation, we see her as a pretty roadside singer who strums a stringed instrument and sings a sweet song to lure away a traveler carrying a secret message for a local lord in league with the Jins. She then takes on his guise and delivers the message herself, in full male garb, to the lord in question. When a visitor who knows the missing messenger spots the deception, Ying Qi flees and seeks out the Beggars Clan leader by disguising herself as an old beggar woman who orders and eats a meal she cannot pay for, knowing that her rough treatment at the hands of the restaurant staff will incite the local beggars to rescue her and take her to their leader. All of these scenes give us welcome opportunities to see other sides of this wonderful actress.
The undercover traitor is played by Huang Tsung-hsin, a dependable Shaw Bros. performer who generally played bad guys (IRON BUDDHA), but also the occasional hero (THE MAGNIFICENT SWORDSMAN). Yueh Hua, who appeared in other films with Cheng Pei Pei (COME DRINK WITH ME, DRAGON SWAMP, RAW COURAGE, BROTHERS FIVE, THE SHADOW WHIP), plays the hero, an overly cleancut Beggars Clan leader. Lee Wan Chung plays the villain's top lieutenant. Fang Mien plays the noble leader of the Flying Dragon clan. It's all well shot on Shaw Bros. sets and backlots, with some occasional location sequences. The fight direction (by Liang Shao Sung) is standard for the era, with nothing particularly unusual or imaginative on display. This is not a lost Shaw classic, but if you're a fan of Cheng Pei Pei, you'll want to see it.
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