THE IRON BUDDHA Action-packed, lightly-plotted Shaw Bros. swordplay film
THE IRON BUDDHA (1970) has more slaughter, pillage, plunder, and bloodshed in its first 20 minutes than many Shaw Bros. movies have in their entire length. The villain here, Xiao Tianzun, is a real bad guy. He's guilty of attempted rape in a pre-credits sequence, and rape and mass murder in the 15 minutes following the credits, as he kills a celebrated kung fu master and his daughters and slices through an entire school of students with his Evil Poisonous Sword, sticking around long enough to watch as the wounded students kill themselves to keep from suffering the lethal effects of the poison. A truly formidable villain, he smiles a lot and seems to really enjoy doing evil. He's played by Huang Tsung-hsin, who usually played lower-level bad guys working for somebody else. He played a hero in one Shaw Bros. movie I've seen, THE MAGNIFICENT SWORDSMAN, also reviewed on this site, and was quite a change-of-pace character there. But he's so good as the main villain here that I don't understand why he wasn't used this way more often. Unless I just haven't seen those films yet. Other Shaw Bros. films I've seen him in include: ONE-ARMED SWORDSMAN, THE ASSASSIN, DRAGON SWAMP, VALLEY OF THE FANGS, A TASTE OF COLD STEEL, SWORDSWOMEN THREE, THE LADY PROFESSIONAL and THE SWIFT KNIGHT.
The film's hero, Luo Han (Ling Yun), is the sole surviving student and he now has to track down Xiao Tianzun and avenge his master. He soon learns that the only antidote to the Evil Poisonous Sword is something alternately called Precious Knife and Hulong Knife that's supposedly in the possession of a retired palace guard who's now in hiding. In the course of it all, Luo Han helps a pretty damsel-in-distress, Peony (Fang Ying), and gets into a fight with Master Geng and the staff of his corrupt security bureau. It was never clear to me why Master Geng (Chen Hung-Lieh) goes after Luo Han, other than some vague tie to the villain. But, no matter, it just means more great fight scenes. The villain, Tianzun, even comes up with an ingenious strategy of fooling the hero, who doesn't know what Tianzun looks like, into thinking he, Tianzun, is a relative of Tianzun's victims and even gives him advice for finding the knife. Tianzun's plan is to trick the knife out of the hero's possession once he's found it. Finally, it all comes down to a showdown between Luo Han and the Precious Knife vs. Tianzun and his Evil Poisonous Sword.
The fight scenes are frequent and mostly involve multiple combatants. When he doesn't have a sword, the hero uses karate chops and kicks. The hero is played by Ling Yun, who appeared in SIX ASSASSINS, FIVE TOUGH GUYS and KILLER CLANS, among many others. The fights were staged by Han Kuo and Chu Yuan Lung. Han Kuo is only credited with two other films on the Hong Kong Movie Database, THE GOLDEN KNIGHT and THE CRIMSON CHARM. Chu Yuan Lung turns out to be an alternate name for none other than Sammo Hung, who went on to become a great kung fu star and director in his own right.
Overall, this may not be the most complex swordplay film I've seen from Shaw Bros., but it's short (84 min.), filled with action, and never once flagged.
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