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名劍天驕 (1969)
Famous Swordsman Tin Kiu

Reviewed by: ewaffle
Date: 12/31/2007

“Famous Swordsman” is a dark comedy with enthusiastic, athletic but not very skilled swordplay by attractive actresses, a mystery surrounding the current generation of a noble family, a wandering knight who must clear his name of false accusations and a heroine who doesn’t want to marry the man picked for her by her father. It is loosely structured around the journey of Lien Yu Chiao, the woman on the run from her chosen betrothed, to find the descendents of the Five Knights who she thinks will help her.

Meng, our hero, becomes marriage bait when he is summoned to the home of Lien’s father who tells him that there are a number of martial arts challenges he would like Meng to undertake. No one has passed more than two of them so far. Meng makes short work of the tests—ten sparrows are releases simultaneously from a cage and he must bring down all ten of them with one throw of ten darts. Next, a cup of wine is set on a pole several feet in the air. The test is to jump in the air, grab the cup with one's teeth and drink the wine on the way down, not spilling any of it and not using one's hands. The third one is to slice through six stout poles with one swing of the sword. When Meng accomplishes all of them he finds that he has passed the test to marry his host's daughter, a woman he has encountered before although he doesn’t yet know it.

The marriage isn’t one that will last. The bride has run away leaving behind a maid disguised in her wedding night finery and a letter for her father. The letter says that Meng is an evil man and that she will make her own way in the world. This is based on the very first scene of the movie, a sexual assault on a young woman by a masked villain. The attack is thwarted by Meng but Lien thinks that he is the one responsible for it.

We discover that Meng is a force to be reckoned when the scene changes to one of a younger brother demanding that his older sibling shown him the Thunder Sword technique so that he can complete the training begun by their father since Meng is an evil swordsman who has targeted them—the Yan family. The older brother tells him that he will teach the technique but that he must swear never to do anything immoral with his new powers, a demand that unnerves the younger brother briefly. This entire “do only good with your awesome skill”, a typical request in Hong Kong martial arts movies, is almost immediately contradicted since everything they do is vile and corrupt.

Lien approaches a number of men who she thinks might help her—they may be, although this isn’t very clear, the descendents of the Five Knights. In each case she finds that the person is asks for assistance is an old friend of her father and knows how she fled on her wedding night. To show her that there are worse fates than being married to a handsome young swordsman each of them makes a pass at her. She encounters types that seem to pop up in sex comedies that cut across cultures and millennia: the concupiscent monk who is willing to make her an acolyte, a dirty old man who thinks she would be a good concubine, a beggar who doesn’t seem to think much but is very attracted to her.

This is a world where swordplay is what defines the social relations, gender roles and class alliances. Important issues are settled with the clash of steel although without bloodshed--the vanquished is simply bested and not killed or even nicked by a blade. Everyone uses the same technique in which the stiff scabbard is employed as a weapon in itself, either to block thrusts from the opponent or as a club. It didn’t look as if the action director did much doubling for the fights—many of them, especially when two women were dueling, were slow and unexciting.

Things end with Meng and Lien joining forces against the evil Yan brothers and their retainers and after some bloody swordplay and a bit more physical comedy they retire to the bridal chamber that had been standing empty while they chased each other around the countryside.

“Famous Swordsman” looks cheap but has many of the strengths of Hong Kong action cinema: clear, simple and effective exposition, characters developed as much by action as dialog and very evil bad guys contrasted with almost perfect good guys. The directors melded the pathos, comedy and action better than is generally done and some extremely attractive actresses had a lot of screen time.

Reviewer Score: 6