Thundering Sword, The
Hong Kong 1967
Directed by Hsu Cheng-hung.

All the Clans are after the Thundering Sword, the evil clans for power, the good clans so that they can destroy it. On the quest for good are two brothers Yu(Chang I) and Chiang (Lo Lieh). The evil team, poison masters of the Centipede House, consists of So Jiao-Jiao (the beautiful Cheng Pei-Pei), Wu Ma, and an assortment of heavies. But good vs. evil sword quest is thrown out of whack almost immediately, though, when Jiao-Jiao falls in love at first sight with Yu. "It'll never work!" her handmaiden pleads. "He is part of a good clan and we are in the evil clan!" Well, at least everyone knows where they stand.

Brother Chiang, meanwhile, retrieves the sword in a great moment of tomb-robbing derring-do of the INDIANA JONES variety, but then immediately runs into Jiao-Jiao, who poisons him and takes the sword, then feels pretty guilty about it and tries to make amends. For the rest of the film, Jiao-Jiao tries to do good, but generally screws this up terribly. I guess it's not easy for someone in an evil clan to try to change their ways.

With good intentions she disguises herself as Yu to hire an escort service to rush his poisoned brother to treatment. The escort service botches the job, though, leading the good clan to believe he had been crippled on purpose by Jiao-Jiao. In a fury she returns to the escort service and massacres them to a man. One survives and places the blame squarely on Brother Yu, since after all she disguised herself as him. With one brother crippled and the other falsely accused of murder, she couldn't have been more evil if she was trying to be on purpose.

Jiao-Jiao spends the rest of the film trying to untangle this mess. The issue of the Thundering Sword, and the competing clans, recedes further and further into the background, and finally is given a perfunctory, if amusing, conclusion. Meanwhile, Jiao-Jiao is generally despised and frustrated to the extent that one wishes she would just give up on the whole "being good" thing and switch back to massacres, the one skill in which she is quite accomplished.

There a couple of very good scenes in the film, most notably the massacre of the security escort service, a surprisingly violent scene of vicious mayhem in which people are cut down like wheat, limbs are severed, and weapons are embedded in the flesh so deeply they stay there (action choreography provided by the master, Lau Kar-Leung). Cheng Pei-Pei is charismatic when malicious, but degenerates into a weepy willow by the end. Lo Lieh is equally exciting at first, but after being crippled, he says little but gets carted out on a divan during every crucial scene; not to say anything, but just for an occasional bug-eyed reaction shot. Chang I, the romantic lead, is the least thrilling of the bunch. Not particularly attractive nor martial, he prefers negotiation to fighting, and when asked to display his skills does a bit of Huangmei opera instead and impresses his opponent with his calligraphy. While this is all a bit silly, it must be said that THE THUNDERING SWORD is successful at drawing a distinction between the good and evil clans, with the good heroes doing anything they can to avoid conflict, rather then the usual heroic stance of ratcheting up the bodycount as quickly as any villain.

In the end, every single character introduced in the entire picture assemble, and instead of having a brawl, they exchange melodramatic monologues and Cheng Pei-Pei weeps incessantly. It's enough to make you wish you'd never started watching in the first place, but then, the classic action setpieces in the first half are enough to make the film at least marginally recommended.

Rating: Marginally Recommended (Marginally Recommended)

Posted by Peter Nepstad on July 29, 2005.

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