VALLEY OF THE FANGS Exciting Shaw Bros. swordplay adventure
VALLEY OF THE FANGS (1970) is a period action film from Shaw Bros. that boasts a strong cast, a nice mix of location work and studio sets, and an above-average storyline that culminates in a large-scale battle at an Imperial brickworks and workers' barracks. It all starts with a wicked Prime Minister imprisoning a beloved Imperial Lecturer, Song Yuan, on false charges. Song's daughter and wife dig up an Iron Shield of Pardon that had once been bestowed on Song and proceed to the capital in a bid to free their father/husband. The Prime Minister sends his Imperial Guards to find the pair and retrieve the shield to prevent the freeing of Song. Lo Lieh plays a lone swordsman who happens along to help the women out.
The beautiful Li Ching (KING EAGLE, HONG KONG RHAPSODY) plays the daughter and she and the mother pose as a mother-daughter team of street singers. At one point, Li sings a song about the legendary heroine, Mulan. At another point, at a roadside inn, Li is confronted by blustery Fan Mei-sheng, as one of the Imperial Guards searching for her, who demands she sing a bawdy ditty called, "In a Bridal Suite." She doesn't know it, so HE starts singing it, making for a nice comic touch.
To make a long story short, after much hiding and fighting and pursuit on the road, the action shifts to the Valley of the Fangs where a bunch of ex-bandits operate an Imperial kiln to make bricks for the Emperor's new palace. Li and her mother go there to hide for the night and, after some internal dispute, the lead group of ex-bandits decide to side with Lo Lieh and defend the mother-and-daughter when the Imperial Guards arrive on site. An intervention by an official from the Ministry of Works gives Mom-and-daughter momentary protection from arrest until the bricks are finished. But they hatch a plan of escape...
The Valley of the Fangs set is one of the biggest outdoor sets I've yet seen in a Shaw film. It's got the kiln, huge piles of bricks and a large workers' barracks. And it's the setting for a sprawling fight scene as Lo and the workers battle the Imperial guards over the whole run of the place. The actors playing the ex-bandits include kung fu great Chen Sing (SHAOLIN MONK), Shaw Bros. regular Cheng Lei (THE MAGNIFICENT TRIO) and Kang Hua (whom I enjoyed when he played a heroic role in THE BLACK TAVERN).
Overall, the plot is very well laid out and keeps things hopping at a good pace for its entire running time, with enough clever twists and turns to keep it from being too predictable. The film's ending is quite unusual for a Shaw filmit actually shows us what happens to the characters, with some genuine resolution. Three-and-a-half-minutes of it. No freeze frames. No abrupt cuts. While it didn't have the specific ending I was hoping for, it actually dramatizes everything that needed to be seen. Well done.
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