Sunday, March 15, 2015

Shih Szu - The Young Avenger

What's happening fans? Hai! Karate returns with a look at one of the most beloved actresses of the martial arts genre during the 1970's, none other than Shih Szu!! Szu was a major player for the Shaw Studios and even had some notoriety in the West during her career - but we'll get more into that down the line. Shih Szu was an actress who could move from one extreme of outright ferocity to the other of demure maiden with ease, and was a definite eye-catcher whenever she was on screen.

(From The Legend Of The Seven Golden Vampires, 1974)

Shih Szu was born Lei-Qiu Shi on October 24, 1953 in Taiwan. Her parents had emigrated there from Hunan Province on the mainland some time before. She joined Shaw in 1970 through their actor's training school and it wasn't long before she got her first role - it was in fact a year later when she made her debut as Chiang Shang-Ching in The Crimson Charm. The young ingenue left a deep impression on the studio and audiences, to the point where she wound up starring in two more films released that year. One of which would cast her opposite THE boss lady of Shaw at that time, Cheng Pei-Pei. That film? The Lady Hermit. Pei-Pei would play the reluctant and reclusive swordswoman who Szu seeks out to teach her all of her skills. The movie would prove prophetic as Pei-Pei left the studio soon after.

(From The Thunderbolt Fist, 1972)

Shih Szu would wind up figuring into many Shaw features, sometimes working on three at once. She proved capable of filling any role, and this wound up making her a select choice to star in not one, but two movies that Shaw would co-produce with European studios. The first was a farcical action picture entitled Supermen Against The Orient, done with an Italian studio. (Side note: I'll be covering that on this blog. Begrudgingly. 'Cause I love y'all.) That saw her team up once again with Shaw legend Lo Lieh. The next film would wind up being a camp item, entitled The Legend OF The Seven Golden Vampires. This feature was done in partnership with Britain's Hammer Films, and had Szu join forces with David Chiang and Peter Cushing. That film fared slightly better at the box office. But amidst Szu's popularity, there were one or two oddities that arose. For one, she has a distinction of starring in more than one Shaw pictures that were never finished. One film that she DID complete in this vein was The Warrant, done in 1974. It's become somewhat of a mystery because up until a few years ago, no one knew it was finished. It features Szu as a modern female detective who packs a mean punch and a pistol. It's a shame that it didn't get released as planned because it would've definitely been a prime vehicle for her at that time.

Shih Szu would find that roles offered to her would lessen as far as action was concerned, being cast as an amorous interest or a tragic figure. She wouldn't totally give up her swords; there's one or two films where she got the chance to prove her fighting chops were still up to par. One of them was the action flick A Massacre Survivor, shot in Taiwan with future star director Corey Yuen and featuring Shaw players like Chung Wa. And one of her absolute best fighting and dramatic roles came later on in her career, in Flying Guillotine II. As Na Lan, her performance helps imbue a sequel with flair and make it less of a rushed production(which it was). Her beauty was and still is unquestioned, but her feisty persona ranks up there with the best of them. Szu's career began to taper off as the 1980's arrived, and by the end of the decade, she would be taking on bit roles in independent films. As of today, she's comfortably retired in Hong Kong. We at Hai! Karate send a salute to this woman warrior of the screen!!

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