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KNIGHT OF KNIGHTS, a high-flying 1966 Hong Kong costume adventure
KNIGHT OF KNIGHTS (1966) is a Shaw Bros. swordplay adventure staged in the more stylized Peking Opera vein that was prevalent in the early-to-mid '60s. There is lots of fighting, but it's not very artfully done and consists of the heroes wildly slashing their opponents and downing them effortlessly while making high rooftop leaps, all without suffering any scratches themselves. It's a bit on the overwrought side, with the righteous heroes wearing too much eye makeup, the villains blustering and leering, and the maidens delicate and modest (in contrast with the fighting females usually found in Hong Kong swordplay films).
The film opens with a nighttime raid by six sworn brothers on a monastery run by a corrupt gang. After much swordfighting, archery, leaping, chasing, and bloodshed (including dismemberment), the six all die, with the last one living long enough to tell the 7th sworn brother, Wen Su Chen, about all the dirty deeds going on at the monastery. Wen, accompanied by two sidekicks, goes to the monastery in the guise of a traveling scholar to see for himself. It's the kind of place where a pretty wife coming to bring lunch to her husband, a carpenter working there, is kidnapped to an underground chamber by an outrageously horny monk eager to have his way with her. Wen, dressed in a black ninja-style outfit, finds a secret passage into the dungeon and frees the kidnapped women (there are plenty of them) and the now-imprisoned carpenter.
Wen is working on behalf of Minister Lin, whom the corrupt monks are plotting to kill with an ingenious contraption designed to send a seaside pavilion toppling into the sea. Wen is not the most diligent protector, however, since the villains pull off their plan, forcing Wen and his men to go into the water to rescue Minister Lin, his daughter and the daughter's maid. In the course of it all, Wen and Lin's daughter develop a tasteful romance, manifested by a song duet on the soundtrack as the two are drying their clothes (after the sea rescue) on opposite sides of a cloth partition in an abandoned temple. The male singer's lyrics include, `I almost forgot my manners. Control yourself.'
There is a large cast filled with familiar Shaw Bros. players (look for Wu Ma, Ku Feng, Simon Yuen, and Fan Mei-Sheng, among others) and lots of action in the compact 91-minute running time, most of it staged on sprawling Shaw Bros. sets, but some of it also photographed on picturesque seaside locations. It's fast-paced enough to overcome the numerous absurdities of the plot and visually impressive enough to merit a look by fans of old-fashioned Hong Kong swordplay, as also seen in such films as COME DRINK WITH ME and TWIN SWORDS, also reviewed on this site. The Tai Seng tape currently in distribution is full-frame, however, resulting in crucial subtitles being cut off on the sides and loss of some of the action.
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