SWORDSMAN AND ENCHANTRESS - Romantic swordplay adventure from Hong Kong
SWORDSMAN AND ENCHANTRESS (1978) is another in the long line of Chor Yuen-directed adaptations of swashbuckling novels by Ku Lung done for the Shaw Bros. studio. Like the others, this one has its requisite amounts of swordplay, clan rivalry, super-powered martial arts, characters who are never quite what they seem, and a host of beautiful women. The difference here is that a love story predominates--at least for the first two-thirds of the story--and leads to some quiet, tender interludes between its male and female protagonists, Xiao and Chen, played by Ti Lung and Ching Li, who are thrown together by crisis and find themselves rather quickly drawn to each other. However, in its final third, the film takes a left turn into a bizarre plot twist that upends all our previous assumptions, leading to a surprise twist at the end that dissipates some of the good will built up earlier. As a result, this film doesn't quite rank with the best of the other films in this group, which includes THE MAGIC BLADE, KILLER CLANS, and CLANS OF INTRIGUE, all also reviewed on this site.
The plot initially focuses on the famed "Deer Cutting Sword" which is earmarked for swordsman Lian Chengbi (Liu Yung), one of two champions of the "boxers' world," but is first hijacked by a fast-moving, highly skilled teenaged girl (Candy Wen Hsueh-erh) who claims to be acting on behalf of the other champ, the elusive Xiao (Ti Lung). When Lian's wife, Chen (Ching Li) is kidnapped first by one group and then by another, Xiao intervenes and saves her, taking her to his remote hillside house to apply a medication to her poisonous wound. In that time, the two grow close and she sets out to tidy up the sprawling house with its system of corridors and porches overlooking a picturesque waterfall and stream (all built in the studio, of course) and fix up some home-cooked meals for the reclusive spear-fighter. A misunderstanding over this chaste interlude results in enmity between the two champions, Lian and Xiao, and a series of duels. When Xiao has to rescue Chen once again, they wind up escaping from their pursuers into a mysterious, hidden house which contains the strange Puppet Villa. To say more would be unfair, given the sheer unpredictability of the subsequent chain of events. Let's just say that a giant pair of chopsticks is involved. It all leads to a sprawling battle involving at least twelve principals and a tragic ending. While the final fight offers a rousing finale, the film's shift from romantic drama to the bizarre goings-on at Puppet Villa is too much a changing of gears in the middle of the journey to succeed on its own terms as the other films cited do.
Ti Lung is his usual dashing self as the lone fighter, a bearded drifter who has sought to distance himself from "the boxers' world," but finds himself drawn in by the false accusations lobbed at him repeatedly. His weapon of choice is a long spear (with a sword hidden inside) which he wields with great force and skill in at least half a dozen major fights in the course of the film. Ching Li is not the proactive heroine she was in WEB OF DEATH (1976), but is instead the supportive, nurturing wife to one hero and companion and soulmate to the other. The love triangle here gently recalls the more turbulent one in Chang Cheh's BLOOD BROTHERS (1973), which also starred Ti Lung and Ching Li (with Chen Kuan Tai being the third point in the triangle), but in which Ti was much more corrupt and power-mad. Here, both of the men are noble heroes who should be allies rather than opponents.
Also in the cast of SWORDSMAN AND ENCHANTRESS is Lily Li in a sexy turn as Lady Feng, who laments her reputation as the "notorious slut of the boxers' world," wondering why married men can have as many concubines as they like while she's branded a "man junkie" for having had many husbands and lovers. (She unrobes a couple of times but has none of the nude scenes that pepper some of Chor Yuen's other works, most notably KILLER CLANS.) The real surprise in the cast is spunky teenaged villainess Candy Wen Hsueh-erh, who plays the problematic mysterious killer who shows up to wreak havoc wherever possible, for reasons not explained until the end (and none too well at that). She's quite ruthless at times, using fresh leaves in one quick motion to inflict lethal blows on a squad of men working for her after they've outlived their usefulness. She's cute as a button, ever-smiling, but totally amoral and utterly deadly.
The production values are as sumptuous as we've come to expect from Chor Yuen, with large, lavish sets, beautiful design and color and a stunning array of costumes. There's also a jaunty romantic melody that accompanies Ti Lung on his travels.
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