Sword of Emei (Review)

Sword of Emei

aka 峨嵋霸刀 aka E Mei ba dao

Written by Wan Hoi-Ching and Ling Hon
Directed by Chan Lit-Ban

A Cantonese swordplay flick featuring a masked heroine, plenty of swordplay, piles of bodies, and one of the fastest paces I’ve seen in a Cantonese language feature from this time. Sword of Emei was a great surprise and a highly recommended action film. By 1969, the rails were starting to come off of the Hong Kong film insdustry, as pressure from the far superior Shaw Studios was making the local productions look like child plays. One way the industry tried to take up the slack was to push for some more adultish wuxia flicks, thus what would have probably been a slower female sworswoman (nuxia) film with a lot of gabbing in 1966 suddenly is a fast-paced action bonanza focused on one of the hot female leads of the time. And while it isn’t one of the Jane Bond flicks of the era, it does feature some of the plot tropes transplanted back to older China, along with the standard wuxia ideas like super swords and being noble bandits.

The main reason why this is so enjoyable is the pacing, so let’s give a hooray to action directors Han Ying-Chieh and Leung Siu-Chung for coming up with modern action film pacing 40 years ago! Sure, with the vast amount of action going on vs the probably minuscule shooting schedule, the action isn’t complex, and most characters get killed in a slash or two, but there is a ton of it and it makes up for the complex swordfighting that was still in its infancy at the time.

Sword of Emei was originally filmed in color, but the only released version I could find was a black and white vcd with a beat up print and burnt in subs (subtitles are rare on a lot of these films, so I’ll take what I can get!) thus explaining these blurry, blown up screencaps I have for you. According to the cast listings, there is an attempt to give some cross-national appeal with Mitr Chaibancha! Except I couldn’t spot him and didn’t even know he was supposed to be in this film until after it was over. Oops! Sammo Hung Kam-Bo is also somewhere among the many men slaughtered, but with all the carnage, he could be Guard #3 or Guard #343! So instead, let’s focus on the cast we know:

Masked Mau (Josephine Siao Fong-Fong) – Masked Mau is also called Masked Hero in the subtitles. She’s the mysterious thief giving people fits and also dispensing justice from the end of a blade…a Chin Fang Sword blade, which is like the best sword blade ever! No one knows who she is or that’s she’s even a she! Who could she be…
Lo Fang-ying (Josephine Siao Fong-Fong) – orphan raised by relatives who own an inn. Her Uncle Ma taught her to hunt, shoot, and swordfight, which she totally doesn’t use as skills when dressed up as a masked thief who goes all Robin Hood on villains. Nope!
Au King (Kenneth Tsang Kong) – Mystery swords guy who comes into town just in time to catch Masked Mau, but he actually falls for her and Lo Fang-ying, which we knew would happen because he’s the only available guy in the film who isn’t instantly killed!
Lord Chao Pai-tien (Sek Kin) – Jerk who acts like a jerk because his brother-in-law is the evil emperor. Terrorizes the land and the people, and totally hits on all the young ladies. But don’t tell him he does that, because he hates facts as well.
Uncle Ma (Ling Mung) – Fang-ying’s uncle who has raised her since her parents were murdered by Lord Chao. Taught her the fighting skills she uses to slaughter hundreds of people.
Aunt Ma (Yung Yuk-Yi) – Fang-ying’s aunt who isn’t too keen on all this heroine business until she decides to pick up a sword and kill people as well. And she’s good at it. Which means she had combat training also and probably killed lots of dudes…
Hsiao Lan (Sum Chi-Wah) – Constantly endangered girl who made the mistake of being attractive in an area where Lord Chao wants all hot babes chained to his bed. Wears a hairstyle that looks like she’s sporting a mickey mouse hat at certain angles.

Masked Mau is a killing machine. She’s such an efficient engine of destruction she doesn’t bother to wait for the opening credits to finish before she’s slicing up dudes. Clad in all black with a black veil to hide her face, not only is she killing all sorts of guys, she looks to be on a desperate mission. But on the way, she saves local beautiful girl Hsiao Lan and her family from bandits who want to kidnap Hsiao Lan for local tyrant Lord Chao’s hot girl collection. And he’s not the kind of collector who keeps his toys mint in box, if you know what I mean.

Speaking of Lord Chao, that’s who Masked Mau is gunning for, so she continues on her fast riding out. (Right after she rides off, the father astutely points out that she might be the masked Hero! Way to logically deduce there, pops.) Masked Mau sneaks into the house of the evil Lord, who is complaining that Masked Mau is unable to be caught by his incompetent men. No one stands up to Lord Chao, as he’s the arrogant brother-in-law of the Emperor.

So Masked Mau steals 100 tails of silver from the house! Then she mocks Lord Chao with disembodied laughter, and leaves a note that chastises him for bugging the local females. Masked Mau then drops down to laugh at him more, starting a sword duel. She’s embarrassed him through his men, through his behavior, and through taking what she wants from him in open defiance. Now she’s going to humiliate him in front of a crowd, an ultimate act of public embarrassment. The fight goes on until all of the Lord’s guards pour in and make the fight…less unfair for them, but they’re still going to lose horribly and begin to drop like flies. But even these odds will wear down Masked Mau eventually, so she escapes on horseback with dozens of guards chasing her. Masked Mau is so skillful, she has time to give the stolen money to Hsiao Lan and her family from earlier so they can start a new life.

She then kills more of Lord’s men here, and then many many more in a cool fight sequence in the town they chase her to, finally hiding and dropping her Masked Mau disguise and becoming Lo Fang-ying again. Her innkeeper aunt and uncle say she was out hunting all day. But Masked Mau has vowed to strike Lord Chao’s place again in three days.

She does, getting past his guards without them even noticing her to laugh at Lord Chao again. He demands to know why she’s targeting him, and she says it’s just because he’s a jerk! the two battle again, with Lord Chao surviving a fatal blow due to dumb luck. He manages to cut off her veil, but somehow still can’t figure out she’s a girl. She fights her way out of the fortress so she can hide her face again.

Next thing you know, Masked Mau is wanted with a 1000 gold taels reward. There’s a very cool sequence where the townspeople discuss then all walk away, revealing Fang-ying standing there looking at her poster, proud of her work. At an inn shortly after, she gets into a spat with a guy named Au King who is staring at her, revealing herself as the wanted thief and getting him to chase her through town. She dresses as Masked Mau and is ready to swordfight him, but he has the same special Chin Fang type of sword as her. He manages to cut off a piece of her costume as she runs.

Au King gets hired by Lord to hunt down Masked Mau, but he refuses any money. And of course he ends up staying at the inn run by Fang-ying’s aunt and uncle. She wants revenge on him and they fight for a bit more while arguing over who has the real Chin Fang sword. Later at home, Uncle Ma tells here there are two Chin Fang swords, the other is owned by her cousin Au, who no one has seen in years. You do remember that Au King’s name is Au, right? Because this shouldn’t be that hard to put together.

Lord Chao tries to kill Au because he knows Au fought Masked Mau and didn’t try to kill her. Au King fights through the guards, and during one jump he gets bear traps on both feet! Double ouch! He kills many guards, but gets two arrows in his back, then two more arrows in the chains connected to the bear traps that leaves him hanging upside down. Does Lord Chao have Hawkeye working for him?

Au’s about to be killed when Masked Mau pops up and saves him. As they escape, they work their way through many more guards. The bodycount in this film is exceptional! They’ve almost single-handedly depopulated China. Masked Mau is swinging her swords at arrows, their return trajectory causing them to kill the archers who fire. After an escape bia horse, Masked Mau hides Au beneath hay near the house Hsiao Lan’s family is staying. Lord Chao drops everything to put the moves on Hsiao Lan, but Masked Mau interrupts and saves her again.

Hsiao Lan’s family repays their debt by taking care of the injured Au until Masked Mau returns to collect him. Hsiao Lan agrees to go with Masked Mau/Lo Fang-ying back to the inn to help care for him.

When Au King awakens, he tries to figure out which girl is Masked Mau by smelling them. Also he’s in love with Fang-ying, which is good because everyone overhears and tells him she’s Masked Mau and that they’re cousins so the getting it on light is green!

Uncle Ma and Aunt Ma tell the tale of Lo Fang-ying’s parents’ murders by Lord Chao, as her father wouldn’t give the Chin Fang Swords to Lord Chao’s brother in law who was a tyrant king. Lord Chao responded by killing everyone. Even Au King’s parents, but he was sent away earlier with one of the swords. Killing an entire family is pretty rude. Even ruder, Lord Chao is banging on the door of the inn right now! He’s come to search the place for Masked Mau. Except Chao is too busy trying to go all sexual harrassment on Fang-Ying, who only gets away by playing dumb, as in can’t talk dumb. Even Lord Chao isn’t that evil! I think because Lord Chao has to help with these random searches himself, Masked Mau’s depopulation efforts are starting to hurt the local economy. Soon they’ll have to import new goons to be murdered.

After Chao goes back home, everyone decides to attack Lord Chao, even Hsaio Lan! Uncle Ma, Aunt Ma, Hsaio Lan, Fang-Ying, and Au King grab their weapons and play the old fake prisoners routine to get inside. That scheme is so old, it was used a long time ago. Far far away.

With more heroes with weapons, the bad guys get cut down like butter before a lawnmower. The final battle with Chao requires both Au and Fang-Ying, but he falls as well, because he’s evil and it’s die time! Before the bodies have even stopped twitching, the rest ask about the wedding date for Fang-Ying and Au King! Good grief, are they in Vegas?

Sword of Emei is one of the better Cantonese wuxia flicks of the era, largely due to the non-stop action. The bodycount is high, if you stacked everyone who was killed end to end, you could walk to the moon, then start slaying Moon Men with your magic sword! Stupid Moon Men, they deserve it. Walking around being made of cheese! Despite the only released copy being black and white and scratched up more than an ancient cat scratching post, it’s still clear enough to be entertaining and worth the effort to track down. I’m not 100% convinced this needed color, as the color stills I have seen have shown mostly brown or dark costumes, no real vivid colors. But then there might not be any surviving stills with vivid color!

But irregardless of all that, Sword of Emei holds up even today due to the fast paced fighting. Tars says track it down!

Rated 9/10 (alarm, luck, cup weapon, Hsaio Lan’s dad, Hsaio Lan’s mom, fabric, dead father, trophy, well view)

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Written by Tars Tarkas

Tars Tarkas

Runs this joint!