THE YOUNG AVENGER Worthy showcase for Shih Szu's talents
Shih Szu was a female fighting star at Hong Kong's Shaw Bros. studio who had a string of swordplay films built around her in the early 1970s (THE RESCUE, HEROES OF SUNG, THE LADY HERMIT). She is front and center in THE YOUNG AVENGER (1972) despite the presence of some strong male co-stars. She fights three bad guys in a pre-credits sequence and then, after the opening credits, we go back in time to see her character, Bao Zhu, as a little girl whose father is a kung fu master faced with a sudden visit by an old enemy. The father is mortally wounded in a sneak attack and Bao Zhu is sent off alone to study the "Poisonous Dragon" sword style with an uncle known as the "mad monk." When she is old enough to head out on her own, she dresses as a man and adopts the identity of "the Young Avenger" to seek out her father's killer, Liu Tou (Fan Mei-sheng), and get revenge.
When she returns to her hometown, dressed as a beggar, she causes a scene at the local restaurant, all a ploy to draw out Chen Shi Lun (Yueh Hua), her cousin and childhood sweetheart, and effect a reunion. This encounter takes place at about the half-way mark and it's quite an emotional and moving scene. Too bad nothing of real substance develops from it. After that point, it becomes a matter of the town preparing for an attack by Liu Tou and his gang, and all the townspeople pitching in to lay traps and set up defenses at the different entrances. The bad guys soon descend on the town and it's an all-out battle for the rest of the 82-minute film, with everyone participating. Bao Zhu's teacher eventually shows up as well and it's a welcome heroic role for Chan Shen, normally one of Shaw Bros.' most dependable villains (e.g. WEB OF DEATH, THE BRAVE ARCHER, SHAOLIN INTRUDERS).
The parts may be greater than the whole, but it's an enjoyable film if you like female fighting stars and imaginative action scenes. The fights were staged by Hsu Er Niu (aka Simon Chui Yee-ang, aka Simon Hsu) who also choreographed the action for AMBUSH, DUEL FOR GOLD, BROTHERS FIVE, and THE FLYING GUILLOTINE, among others. There are long takes and fluid camera moves to capture some intricate fighting maneuvers, with much of the action staged outdoors. Under Hsu's direction, Shih Szu has to work really hard to prove herself a plausible action heroine by battling multiple opponents with a variety of techniques in real time and she certainly pulls it off. (She's a good fighter, a strong actress and a beautiful woman, a hard combination to beat.) The other performers are all excellent, most notably Yueh Hua, Fan Mei-sheng, Chan Shen, and Tung Lin, who plays Bao Zhu's father. Yueh Hua's character has been trained in the Iron Fan and he uses that weapon to great effect in the film's battle finale.
This film is not to be confused with a later kung fu film of the same title, released in 1980 and starring Wong Yue, and also reviewed by me on this site.
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