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Weak buildup, spectacular finale in minor Shaw Bros. swordplay adventure
THE GOLDEN SEAL (1971) offers an opening hour of convoluted plotting and complicated family and clan histories as a young martial artist, Dai Tianchou (Tsung Hua) goes after Lei Zhentian (Ku Feng) the rival clan leader who murdered his father and destroyed his clan. He is joined by Jingyi (Yu Feng), a young woman assassin with the same intent and a family secret that we learn near the end. They're eventually joined by the assassin's female mentor Feng (Ha Ping), who bears facial scars from a fight with Zhentian; Miss Shi, a wild forest girl who lives in a cave and runs around topless; and Xiaoyan (Wang Ping), a conflicted daughter of one of the enemy clan leaders. So the hero has four female allies with whom to confront the Sun and Moon Clan, a large and vicious gang of killers.
After getting through the slog of establishing all these characters and relationships, the film finally settles into a solid action niche in the final half-hour, with one excellent fight scene after another, beginning with a scene where Xiaoyan, on her way to find the hideout of Dai and Jingyi, is ambushed in a forest by Little White Dragon (future kung fu star Cliff Lok) and his men and has to fight her way out and reach the others. (This scene may have been influenced by King Hu's A TOUCH OF ZEN.) Eventually, they bring the fight back to the Sun and Moon Clan's outpost, with lots of sprawling swordfights, a duel between Dai and Little White Dragon, and a final showdown with Lei Zhentian.
Ku Feng has some of the best fight scenes I've seen him in as he takes on his opponents with a sword and a circular multi-bladed weapon that can do a lot of damage. The other actors get to do a lot of swordfighting and are quite adept at it, doubled by stunt players only when they do high leaps, falls and other acrobatic stunts. I was quite impressed. The fighting instructor, Liang Shao Sung, favors long takes so he gets the most out of his actors as they employ several moves in each shot. Liang did the same job for quite a few other exemplary kung fu films, including the Shaw Bros. films, THE LONG CHASE (1971), THE 14 AMAZONS (1972), TRILOGY OF SWORDSMANSHIP (1972), and THE THUNDERBOLT FIST (1972), all but one of which (AMAZONS) I've reviewed here, plus, in his post-Shaw career, RAGE OF WIND (1973), THE TWO CAVALIERS (1973), and two Billy Chong vehicles, KUNG FU EXECUTIONER (1981) and A FISTFUL OF TALONS (1983).
Aside from Ku Feng, the actors constitute a strictly second-tier Shaw cast. I've seen Wang Ping and Yu Feng in a few films each, but they never really registered with me until this film. Now I want to re-screen the other films of theirs to see if I missed anything. I don't know who plays Miss Shi, the cave girl who swings on vines and goes topless in her first scene, showering under a waterfall. Ha Ping was a character actress who usually played mothers, shopkeepers' wives and the like, but gets to play an embittered kung fu master here, possibly the largest role I've seen her in. Cliff Lok makes a good villain, but would soon be starring in his own top-drawer kung fu films, including KUNG FU GENIUS, RING OF DEATH, NINJA SUPREMO and DUEL OF THE SEVEN TIGERS. The film was directed by actor Tien Feng (ONE-ARMED SWORDSMAN), who has a cameo as the revered master who teaches the hero kung fu. He only directed two other films in his career, neither of which I've seen.
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