Cast: Cheng Pei-pei, Yueh Hua, Chan Hung-lit
SUMMARY: During China’s Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), a lethal gang kidnaps a general’s son in retaliation for the capture of their leader. The gang sets a timeline of five days: if their leader is not returned by then, they will kill their hostage. The next day, an emissary from the general stops at a local inn, where members of the gang are waiting to ambush him. To their surprise, the young man easily defeats all of them without being injured himself. The gang members retreat, but promise to return again. Unbeknownst to the gang members, the “young man” is actually a woman, known as the Golden Swallow (Cheng Pei-pei); she is also the general’s daughter, and therefore the sister of the hostage. Golden Swallow stays at the inn that night, but she is interrupted when a local beggar, nicknamed Drunken Cat (Yueh Hua), stumbles into her room; after forcing him out, Golden Swallow discovers that he has stolen her weapons. She retrieves the weapons (after he seemingly leaves them for her), but when she returns to her room she sees several gang members sneaking in, attempting to kill her in her sleep. Golden Swallow realizes that Drunken Cat has actually saved her life, and has also given her a clue to the whereabouts of the gang: a temple. The next day, she dons women’s clothing and journeys to a Buddhist monastery, pretending to be a worshiper. The gang is indeed using the monastery as a hideout, and they recognize the “young man” and surround her. While Golden Swallow is a much better fighter than the low-level members, she is much more evenly matched against Jade Faced Tiger (Chan Hung-lit), the gang leader (in the captured leader’s absence) who now attacks her. Golden Swallow is nearly defeated, but receives help from a mysterious source (Drunken Cat, though she does not know it). During her escape, she is hit in the shoulder by a poisoned dart, and passes out in the woods beyond the monastery. Luckily, Drunken Cat rescues her before the gang members find her. Drunken Cat takes her to his home, where he nurses her back to health. When gang members find them, Golden Swallow is stunned to find that Drunken Cat is actually a kung fu master whose skills exceed her own (which are considerable): in fact, his real name is Fan Da-Pei, and he only pretends to be a beggar (he is somewhat of a drunk).
Back at the monastery, the Abbot returns after a long absence. However, this Abbot does not have pure religious motivations: he is in league with the gang, and is also a kung fu master. He has been out searching for a man who trained with him, and had the same master, but has not found him. The gang members tell the Abbot about their recent troubles with Golden Swallow, and a beggar. When they mention the beggar’s bamboo staff, the Abbot realizes that the beggar is the man he has been searching for. The Abbot is obsessed with getting the bamboo staff, having killed his master to get to it. Golden Swallow wants to attack the monastery immediately, but Fan Da-Pei hesitates. He knows that the Abbot’s skills exceed his own, and is hesitant to fight the man, given that the Abbot saved his life as a child. However, he promises to help Golden Swallow get her brother back, while also keeping control of the gang leader. He sets up a prisoner exchange, in which the gang leader is transported in a small cart. Fan Da-Pei hides under the cart, and after the general’s son is secured, he released the ropes on the cart, which causes it to roll back to the general’s men. The gang leaders temporarily retreat, but ambush the procession as it returns to the general. Golden Swallow is in the procession, along with a number of female warriors, who manage to drive off or kill the gang members, including Jade Faced Tiger. Fan Da-Pei is confronted by the Abbot, and manages to hold him at swordpoint; however, because the Abbot once saved Fan Da-Pei, he cannot bring himself to kill the Abbot, despite his crimes. The Abbot agrees to go far away and start over under a new name, but later that evening he appears at Fan Da-Pei’s home. The two engage in a fierce battle, but once again Fan Da-Pei wins, killing the Abbot with his master’s bamboo staff. The next day, Golden Swallow and her brother return home, while Fan Da-Pei watches from a hill.
MY TAKE: This film has a lot of similarities to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: both are wuxia films, both feature strong female warriors, and both have Cheng Pei-pei in the cast. In this film, she plays the female lead, Golden Swallow: in Crouching Tiger, she plays Jade Fox, the villain who disguises herself as a maid to the young Jen. Basically, she’s a badass. In this movie, she’s mistaken for a man for some time, I’m guessing partly because of her clothing and partly because of the way she fights. However, it was pretty obvious to me that she wasn’t a “young man” (though I did know from the blurb that the general’s daughter is the one who rescues her brother). Maybe the gang members were just blind. Or dumb. Most of them ended up dead, too. The other female warriors that she has with her at the end of the movie were awesome, too. A couple of them got killed at the end of the movie, but they did way more damage to the gang members. I did suspect almost immediately that Drunken Cat was hiding something — he appeared at the inn at a critical moment, and wasn’t scared off. I actually thought he might be in league with Golden Swallow, serving as a distraction that would help her get the upper hand. I wasn’t right about that, but I was right to be suspicious of him, as he turned out to be a kung fu master. He’s better than Golden Swallow, and she calls him Master after she figures him out. It looked like there might be a romance angle there, but nothing really happened. Instead, they just work together to stop the gang and retrieve Golden Swallow’s brother, then amicably part. The gang seemed to work pretty well without their leader: Jade Faced Tiger apparently was very capable. He wears some scary white makeup that makes him look a little bit like the Joker, though.