Operatic revenge swordplay with Ivy Ling Po kicking ass
This classic "Martial Arts World" tale begins with the elderly teacher of a fighting school preventing the delinquent Crimson Charm gang from killing/raping a young girl. During this fight, the son of the leader of the Crimson Charm gang gets killed. The rest of the movie deals with the gang's vengeance, and then later the vengeance of the school in return. In fact there are 3 major arcs, the tale of the teacher's bravery and journey back home, the defense of the school, and then 3 years later the fate of the Crimson Charm gang.
To appreciate a film like this it's necessary to think of it almost like an opera of Wagnerian proportions. Swordmen and women who are part of the "Martial Arts World" have near-godly powers of fighting and survival. In fact one character has a death scene which lasts virtually 2 and half years! So of course the histrionics and drama are equally amplified. Western audiences were exposed to this kind of thing most recently with Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. In many ways this film has a lot of that. In fact Ivy Ling Po's character here is cut from the same cloth as Michelle Yeoh's portrayal in Crouching Tiger. She has some absolutely kick-ass fighting scenes. In later years the martial arts would become far more stylized (especially anything choreographed by Lau Kar Leung, ie - Liu Chia-Liang) but the martial arts in films of this era are more straightforward (comparable to Zorro or Errol Flynn's stuff I suppose). I am a HUGE fan of Lau's work but his films are more about the fight scenes. The Shaw films from this era (67-73) were more about the drama, and the fight scenes IMHO serviced the story more than the other way around. Both eras are great, but tonite I was in the mood for an epic story of love and revenge and this fit the bill. Even compared to other films of this type and era, this was a bit above-average, mainly because of Ivy Ling Po. She's not the main character in this one but her presence demands engagement in each scene she's in. To see a younger Ivy Ling Po in another memorable role, check out Lady General Hua Mulan (which the Disney animated film also covered).
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