THE JADE FACED ASSASSINLily Ho gives energetic performance in fun swordplay tale
THE JADE FACED ASSASSIN (1970) is yet another female swordplay
adventure from Hong Kong's Shaw Bros. studio, but one distinguished
from so many others by virtue of its eventful, unpredictable plot line,
breathtaking location photography, and lead performance by Lily Ho that
set a new standard for female-fighters-dressed-as-men-themed martial
arts films. Lily plays Siao Lu Er, who was separated from a twin in
infancy and raised by the motley crew of villains in Happy Valley, each
of whom imparts his or her particular kung fu style to the girl. When
she turns 18, she's good enough to beat them all and heads out on her
own, dressed in male garb, on a mission of revenge laid out for her by
Uncle Lian (Ku Feng), the one who'd rescued her from certain death in
the opening scene when an intra-familial dispute left her real parents
A lot happens in the film's running time and a plot summary wouldn't do
it justice. Let's just say that Lily winds up mixing it up with just
the right crew of characters to ultimately resolve all disputes even
though none are initially aware of their real identities. The audience
knows (or can figure out) far more than the characters do, which makes
for genuine suspense and gives the viewer a real stake in the action.
In the course of it, Lily latches onto a fellow called Hero Chang
(Cheng Pei-shan) and correctly suspects him of great wrongdoing and
then sets out to prove it. In the course of it she clashes with a young
swordsman named Hua Yu Chun (Kao Yuen) whose relationship to her
becomes obvious to the viewer long before the characters learn of it.
Lily was not one of the Shaw studio's greatest fighting stars. (She was
more accustomed to contemporary dramatic roles or period courtesan
ones.) However, she displays a great affinity with her character here
and understands how to put over the fact that she's a girl masquerading
as a guy. She moves in just the right way and addresses others and
interacts with them with the easy familiarity of a cocky young man. She
gets it right in a way so few of the actresses who played these roles
did. We don't automatically think, "But it's obvious she's a girl!" She
also gets to do a lot of action here, mostly running around, trailing
bad guys, hiding under things, leaping out of windows and up to
rooftops and such. There really isn't as much fighting action as there
should be in a film like this and what there is isn't the most
intricately staged. Still, there is so much movement among the
characters and at such a fast pace that we really don't mind.
Another key factor of the film's appeal is the visual spectacle of some
of the most unusual and picturesque mountain locations I've yet seen in
a Shaw Bros. film. And they clearly took the main actors out on
location for this action. The fight finale on a majestic mountain top
with incredible views all around is quite amazing. I should add that
the studio work is equally good, with an early segment in Happy Valley
making excellent use of the Shaw studio's expert interior work,
creating a setting of a rundown no-man's town of criminal fugitives
that's quite striking and atmospheric.
The scenes of Lily in Happy Valley reminded me of THE PROUD TWINS
(1979), in which Fu Sheng played a very similar character raised by
unsavory characters. So I checked my notes and realized this one is
indeed based on the same Ku Lung story that PROUD TWINS is based on.
But there are enough significant plot changes to make the viewing
experiences quite different.
Oh, and despite the title, I couldn't spot a single Jade Faced Assassin
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