THE SWIFT KNIGHT Fanciful Shaw Bros. swordplay tale
THE SWIFT KNIGHT (1971) is an enjoyable old-fashioned swordplay adventure about dashing heroes, scowling villains and a pining damsel-in-distress. The plot takes at least 40 minutes (half the running time) to kick in as various characters converge on a remote town to find a particular teenage girl and her adolescent brother, whom we eventually learn are the only children of the dying Emperor, born to a palace maid who was cast out of the court. Various court figures are out to find them, either to restore them to the palace or to kill them so that the dastardly Prince Jie (Tung Lin) can ascend to the throne. Zhu Pao (Wang Hsieh), a henchman of Prince Jie, kills the Imperial envoy and takes his place. An officer disguised as a beggar (Chin Han) is a key figure although it takes a while before we learn his motive. A sharp-eyed constable (Fan Mei-sheng) recognizes the real villain and is thrown in prison as a result, but is later rescued and becomes an ally of the heroes.
A masked hero known as the Swift Knight (Lo Lieh) intervenes at key points, motivated only by a sense of justice. The unwitting Princess (Margaret Hsing Hui) is a passive figure in all of this and is constantly being taken by one party or another. Eventually she falls in love with her chief rescuer, but destiny awaits. Her eager-to-help brother is played by an eleven-year-old actress, Niu Niu, who excelled as a heroine years later in BRAVE ARCHER 2 & 3 and SWIFT SWORD.
It gets silly at times, especially when the heroes are confronted by imposing odds and manage to defeat them far too easily or when characters "fly" effortlessly back and forth in pursuit of each other. But there's plenty of action and movement, well-designed studio sets, and picturesque location work. It moves swiftly for the most part, except for inevitable moments of exposition, when unimportant details are explained for us. But the whole thing is only 80 minutes so there aren't many of those.
The film was directed by Korean transplant Cheng Chang-ho, who gave us KING BOXER the following year, a film that would go on to introduce the kung fu movie to the U.S. under the title FIVE FINGERS OF DEATH. That film's star, Lo Lieh, makes a suitably agile hero in this one as the Swift Knight, who wears a mask at night when he invades brothels to free imprisoned girls and magistrates' headquarters in search of ill-gotten treasures. Chin Han, normally a star of dramas and romances (MY DREAM BOAT), plays Liu, the court officer masquerading as a beggar. Wang Hsieh, a frequent Shaw Bros. villain, does a fine job as the formidable Zhu Pao. Also on hand are other Shaw Bros. regulars, including Fang Mien, Ouyang Shafei, Ling Ling, Chan Shen, and Huang Tsung-shun.
The music score consists almost entirely of cues ripped off from James Bond movies, most notably "From Russia with Love."
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