Saturday, March 7, 2015

The Shadow Whip (Ying Zi Shen Bian, 1971)

What's good folks?! Hai! Karate returns with another film for you fans to check out, especially during Women's History Month! This go-round, we're going to take a look at one film from the career of screen legend Cheng Pei-Pei, The Shadow Whip!! Done in 1971, this film from the Shaw Brothers Studios is directed by the master Lo Wei. Pei-Pei appears in this film with Yueh Hua, Tien Feng, Ku Feng and Lee Kwan at the forefront of the cast. This is a significant film, and I'll explain why later on. But let's get to the meat of the movie...

The Shadow Whip opens up to the audience depicting the countryside covered in snow. We see a caravan heading out for the town of Dafeng, at the behest of Miss Xu(Pei-Pei) and led by Er Sha Zi(Kwan) who is singing as they ride along. It's a cheerful way to begin a film. The fun soon gets disrupted by three shadowy men riding through at a clip, nearly knocking Er Sha off the cart. You'd think that would be the end of it, but once they hit town and stop in at a tavern, Er Sha sees them. The three are known as 'The Serial Trio', ruthless mugs of the martial world. Serial as in 'serial killers'. Er Sha boldly challenges them - and as its been stated on this site before, Lee Kwan being in a picture is for pure comic relief. The trio(Wang Hsieh, Lee Ka-Ting ad To Man-Bo)take him up on it and proceed to thrash him until the wandering knight Wang Jianxin(Hua) steps in. Miss Xu also winds up stepping in, and displays her fighting style - a heavy whip that she uses to take out one of the trio. All is cleared up by the tavern boss, who up to this point was observing the fight alongside Chief Hong(Feng).

Jianxin is highly impressed, and wants to know where Miss Xu learned that skill. There's an underlying motive here, of course. It turns out that Miss Xu is the niece of Fang Changtian(Tien Feng), who makes the nearby Red Pine Village his home. What she doesn't know, and what Jianxin deduces, is that he is the legendary martial warrior known as the Shadow Whip. Jianxin is out to seek revenge against him. To add to the mystery, Chief Hong is suddenly wondering about Miss Xu and her uncle, and enlists the help of the Serial Trio. There are secrets to be admitted to, and many fights ahead for Miss Xu...

The Shadow Whip is a significant film because this would be the next to last film that Cheng Pei-Pei did for Shaw as a leading actress in a fighting role. She would leave Hong Kong to live in San Francisco and open a dance studio. She'd return to do two more films, but they would be for Raymond Chow's Golden Harvest studios. She may have left upon seeing the shift being placed on younger actresses and more noticeably, a leaning by Shaw towards films with male action leads that brought in bigger box office profits. Whatever the case, Pei-Pei does well here, especially when it comes to the whip. You have to marvel at just how well she wields it in fight scenes. And you have to wince for those actors and stuntmen who were on the receiving end.

The film itself, has its ups and downs. While Yueh Hua and Chang Pei-Pei had enjoyed a great chemistry onscreen dating back to the smash hit Come Drink With Me, here it's muted. Yueh Hua winds up being the nice wandering hero, but there doesn't seem to be too much electricity. Ku Feng as Chief Hong does his duty as a sinister figure, and Tien Feng is decent as the Shadow Whip. The film moves along in a plodding fashion, but it livens up thanks to the fighting scenes and the latter 30 minutes of the film, when all is revealed to Miss Xu in an interesting fashion - via a comic book-like scroll. Another note about the action - there's actually a LOT of blood spilled here, enough that the film has a video depicting the kill count. Lo Wei makes a guest appearance, as he often did in his films. Here, it is a vital part of the story, For those who love Pei-Pei's films, this would kind of fall near the waning part of her catalog, but it does make for some entertaining viewing.


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