Archive for the Cheng Pei Pei Category

Review: Golden Swallow (1968)

Posted in Chang Cheh, Cheng Pei Pei, Jimmy Wang Yu, Lo Lieh with tags , on December 30, 2013 by Michael S. Moore

Golden Swallow Cheng Pei Pei

Starring Cheng Pei Pei, Jimmy Wang Yu, Lo Lieh

Fight Choreography by Tang Chia and Liu Chia-Liang

Directed by Chang Cheh

Golden Swallow is the sequel to Come Drink With Me, and Cheng Pei Pei returns as Golden Swallow, a warrior woman who has now found peace with her friend and potential lover Iron Whip Han To (Lo Lieh) who only fights as a last resort. Of course their peaceful existence doesn’t last long, as Silver Roc (Wang Yu) an old lover of Golden Swallow, starts killing members of the evil Golden Dragon Clan and leaving evidence that Golden Swallow was responsible in order to draw her out of hiding for reasons to be revealed. Add to to all of this an evil kung fu lord and dozens of inept bad guys, and what you get is a drastic reduction in the population of China. Oh yeah, and Golden Swallow is torn between both men as she loves them both.

Golden Swallow Lo Lieh

Chang Cheh is very much in his operatic form here, and it’s okay, not great, but shows the greatness that’s to come in his future features. There is some great scenes here, particularly right before Silver Roc’s attack on the Golden Dragon Clan headquarters, as they punish three unfortunate henchmen for sucking really badly, and later as they accuse a young boy of theft, and the fate of the boy and his father really shows how bad the Clan actually is. Jimmy Wang Yu is an unlikeable prick as Silver Roc, and plays that to the hilt, making one wonder what Golden Swallow saw in him to start with. Lo Lieh is his always cool self as Iron Whip, and seems to take a zen approach to everything, which is good considering all the death and violence that will surround all of the characters before the end of the film, and Lo Lieh is able to pull it off with ease. Golden Swallow surprisingly takes a little bit of a backseat to the proceedings here, but she is still the main character, and Cheng Pei Pei plays her as beautiful and fierce, but this time torn between her love for two men, and her confusion is well played.

Golden Swallow Jimmy Wang Yu

The fights are better here than in the previous film, and the choreography has improved, if not the “fighting speed”. The fight at the Peace Tavern (heh) was good, and Cheng Pei Pei did a great job here, and looked much more comfortable with the fight choreography, which is still very dance-like, but showed a little bit more grit than Come Drink With Me. The finale with Jimmy Wang Yu versus a horde of Golden Dragon henchmen is terrific, and a fitting Heroic Bloodshed finale for the film.

Kiai-Kick’s Grade: 7

Golden Swallow is a fun Heroic Bloodshed film that was a taste of the things Chang Cheh had in store for audiences everywhere featuring a fierce performance by the first lady of Kung-Fu, Cheng Pei Pei!

Next:  Jean Claude Van Damme’s splits make their first appearance in No Retreat, No Surrender!

Advertisements

Review: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)

Posted in Ang Lee, Cheng Pei Pei, Chow Yun Fat, Michelle Yeoh, Reviews, Yuen Woo Ping, Ziyi Zhang with tags , on February 28, 2011 by Michael S. Moore

Not since Enter the Dragon has a martial arts film literally changed the way martial arts films are viewed, and has raised the bar once again for martial arts films, and I do mean ARTS, because that what this film is, in story and view, a work that is artistic in every way. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is the most influential martial arts film to come out in quite some time…

The film opens with warrior Li Mu Bai (Chow Yun Fat) sits with his long time friend and fellow warrior, and hopefully future lover Shu Lien (Yeoh), and confides to her that he is looking for peace, and wishes to give up his sword, the Green Destiny. It’s apparent right from the start that they are in love with each other, but neither of them act on their desires, hiding behind honor and duty, but now it appears that may change. Li plans to give the sword to their friend Sir Te, wanting to retire from searching for his nemesis Jade Fox (Pei Pei), who had killed his master years ago. It’s easy to tell that this is what Shu Lien has always wanted. So much is said here with glances and mannerisms. It’s a testament to great acting to watch everything said between them-and what goes unsaid.

We next meet Jen (Zhang), the daughter of Governor Yu, who is to be married to a man she doesn’t love. She confides to Shu Lien that she desires a similar life to hers, full of adventure and fighting, and freedom. In many ways these two opening conversations are the gears that turns the entire film. That night, a female assassin steals the sword, and what ensues is a stunning rooftop chase as Shu Lien tries to retrieve the sword, and it is here we get the first fight in the film, a stunningly fluid and graceful fight between Shu Lien and the assassin, and it is nothing short of a magical staging of movement and speed. The wirework here, as it will be for the entire film, is some of the best ever seen. The assassin escapes Shu Lien due to a third party taking an unsuccessful shot with a dart at Shu Lien.

Right before Shu Lien engages the assassin, Inspector Bo, a kind hearted man who shows that in order to fly around and do amazing things you have to be skilled in martial arts, and is in many ways the “normal” person we can relate to who is clearly outmatched by opponents who can defy gravity, sees two circus performers, a father and daughter, engage the assassin, and also finds that Jen was not in her room during the theft, follows the circus performers, believing that they know more than they let on, and he’s right, as he spies on them the next day, seeing them preparing weapons for some sort of upcoming battle.

Acting on her suspicions after hearing Bo’s report, Shu Lien visits Jen and marvels at how great her calligraphy is, and notes that it point to skills at swordsmanship as well. There are many martial art films that place skill in one as the same as skill in the other.

Meanwhile, Bo goes through the circus performer’s belongings and is caught by them, and they reveal that the father is Inspector Tsai, and along with his daughter are hot on the trail of Jade Fox, whom they believe is hiding among Governor Yu’s entourage. Li Mu Bai returns to Shu Lien, and hears that the sword has been stolen. That night Jade Fox attacks Tsai, his daughter, and Bo, who is more in the way than actually helping. Bo isn’t incompetent, but has no idea the level of skill it would take to beat Jade Fox. Li Mu Bai joins the fight, and Jen stops him before he can kill Jade Fox, and they escape, but not before Jade Fox kills Tsai.
Once again, this is a stunning fight. The choreography is smooth and the performer’s movements are perfect, and almost lyrical in its execution, but while hypnotic to view, the intensity is heightened, and I found myself not wanting Bo, of all people, to get killed. He runs through the choreography like a bull in a china shop, and that’s the point. This is also Chow Yun Fat’s first martial arts fight, I believe. It’s hard to believe that in real life he doesn’t know any martial arts. His movements make him look as if he’s always known it. Cheng Pei Pei does a fantastic job here, and it’s amazing to see her martial arts skills are still intact since audiences haven’t seen her in quite a while.

The next day Shu Lien visits Jen, and uses wordplay and a dropped cup to discover that Jen is indeed the thief who stole the sword. This was a duel of words, and Shu Lien won. That night Jen tries to return the sword, but Li is waiting for her, and engages her in a fight to test her skills, and take back the sword, which Li does. He offers to become her master, but she refuses and leaves. When she gets home, Jen throws Jade Fox, who had been masquerading as her nanny, out, Jade leaves, but not before threatening that she would teach Jen one more lesson in due time, feeling betrayed that Jen had studied the Wudan texts and left items out for Jade Fox. The student had become the master, and Jade would have none of it. Meanwhile Li takes back his sword, and has one last mission: to train Jen and take his revenge on Jade Fox. What follows is without a doubt one of the greatest martial arts films ever made, and the story may be the best as well.

This film is about two different kinds of love: the reckless kind we get into as youngsters, and the more reserved, mature love that can only come with life experiences, but the tragedy here is that Li and Shu Lien never consummate their love, and the words that hang in the air the entire film only come when it is too late. On the other hand, the love between Lo (Chen), a bandit whom Jen met long ago and fell in love with, and Jen is reckless, and ultimately leads to the trouble that eventually will destroy the lives of everyone else in one way or another.

Chow Yun Fat brings a calm, effortless performance as the stalwart warrior Li, who now wants to only lead a peaceful life with Shu Lien. Michelle Yeoh gives what may be her best performance as Shu Lien, and you can see that there is a fire that burns beneath her surface, almost hidden by layers of duty and honor.  Yeoh does so much by not saying anything, letting her facial expressions and movement show her feelings at any given moment.  Zhang Ziyi became famous after this film, and you can see why. She is terrific as Jen, and plays her as a dreamer who wants to be free, as all youth do, but is ill-equipped to deal with the consequences of her actions. Her face is also incredibly expressive, and her fire, unlike Shu Lien’s, burns at the surface, and she is determined to get what she wants, but is unsure how to do it. Cheng Pei Pei is also fantastic as Jade Fox, a vindictive woman who actually wanted Jen’s love, and while I knew she was bad, and she was, she wanted a daughter’s love, and is crushed when it isn’t given, which makes her a pitiable character.

Yuen Woo Ping is heralded as one of the greatest fight choreographers of all time, giving both Jet Li and Jackie Chan some of their best choreographed films, and proves once again that he is indeed one of the best with his efforts here, and while overall I’m not a fan of wirework, delivers some of the best I’ve ever seen. The fight in the bamboo trees between Li Mu Bai and Jen is one of the greatest cinematic scenes ever. The camerawork was impeccable, and the movements and fighting almost seemed as if if came from a dream, and the shot of Li Mu Bai standing on a branch, swaying to and fro effortlessly with the branch, is a stunning shot that you’ll remember days after you see it.  Ang Lee and cameraman Peter Pau made this film seem like a piece of moving art, and you would use words to describe this as you would of an elaborate stage dance: Beautiful, exciting, graceful, balletic, and motion that can take your breath away.

(On a scale of 1-10, 10 being the best):

CHOREOGRAPHY: (10) Yuen Woo Ping makes what may be his best choreographed series of fights ever, and that’s saying something. There isn’t a single fight from big to small that wouldn’t be the end fight of many lesser martial arts films. It’s that good.

STUNTWORK: (10) The tea house fight was incredible, and it was the actual actors suspended so high during the bamboo forest fight. Everyone did a fantastic job, and the men and women who worked the wires deserved an Oscar of their own.

STAR POWER: (10) Chow Yun Fat is in top form here, as is Michelle Yeoh, and Zhang Ziyi would go on to star in many more successful films, and Cheng Pei Pei shows she’s still got it.

FINAL GRADE: (10) As if there would be anything less? Ang Lee has made a martial arts film that will stand the test of time, and spawn a new genre of film that the likes of Zhang Yimou would take up the torch and run with it. Not only one of the greatest martial arts films ever, but one of the greatest films of all time.