Iron Swallow (Review)

Iron Swallow

aka 鐵燕 aka Tie Yan aka Shaolin Iron Eagle
Iron Swallow
1978
Story by Chu Yu
Directed by Cheung Pooi-Shing (as Chang Pay-Cherng)

Iron Swallow
Revenge is a dish best served cold. That’s what some Klingon guy told me, anyway. Iron Swallow is basically a kung fu version of I Know What You Did Last Summer, except it’s a decade later and the children of the slain are the ones having revenge. Revenge is the topic of discussion, because it’s the topic everyone is talking about.

The elders did a horrible crime they refuse to talk about to anyone or even each other. It quickly becomes obvious that it involves rape, murder, and bribes to cover up their deeds. Many of them spent years worrying about the crimes, some throwing themselves into philanthropy out of guilt. None of the characters will call the authorities when attacked, because they don’t want to drag up their sordid histories. This leaves their younger relatives confused and frustrated, knowing something bad is happening and seeing their parents unwilling to do anything about it.

The revenge plot is so much the sole focus that there isn’t some of the usual kung fu tropes. No one seeks out a great master, there is no training montage. There isn’t a gallant knight hanging out in disguise to set things right. It is just pure revenge. The purity of the focus of Iron Swallow is welcome, sometimes films try to do too much and end up accomplishing nothing, while Iron Swallow does what it is supposed to do and does it well.

The problem with all these lovely dubbed kung fu features is it is impossible to get anyone’s name correct, so please excuse me if the character names I use don’t sound exactly like the ones you hear when you watch the film. There is rarely consensus on just how the characters’ names are said by the dubbers, changing depending on who is speaking or what accent the ex-pat in Hong Kong/Taiwan who is doing the part has. Occasionally, the dubbers pronounce the same name differently in two concurrent sentences. Thus, all references to Chia Ling’s character will just be Iron Swallow.
Iron Swallow

Iron Swallow (Chia Ling) – Iron Swallow is the daughter of a murdered man, out to avenge his death by maiming those responsible for his death and the subsequent coverup. She arrives in town with her Aunt, who is also a victim of the incident that started everything. Iron Swallow has focused her entire life on getting revenge. She leaves trademark iron swallow darts with red tassels, which the enemy later uses to frame her. Iron Swallow’s actual name might be Chin Yeh.
Ko Fang (Ting Wa-Chung) – A kung fu student being raised by his single father, who is marked as a target by Iron Swallow. Ko Fang soon learns that all he thought was true was a lie, and that he’s more involved in the revenge drama than he knows. He is best friends with Tu Lung, who is like a brother to him.
Tu Lung (Don Wong Tao) – Son of Chu Hsaio Tien and best friend of Ko Fang. Tu Lung is the idyllic youth who soon learns that things weren’t as clear cut as he thought they would be when he was learning about the world. He’s soon dragged into the confrontations due to familiar and friendly connections, torn between the two sides and his reluctance to join in the violence.
Wu (Wong Wing-Sang) – A Fortune Teller who is really a skilled kung fu assassin hired by Mr. Chu to kill everyone connected to the case before it comes back on him.
Chu Hsiao Tien (Yee Yuen) – Kung Fu Master and local bigwig responsible for a horrible crime and the resulting cover up, which dooms everyone a decade later when it comes time for revenge. Even then, he refuses to take responsibility and tries to kill his way out of it.
Mo Tu Ping (Hung Kin-Wing) – A Mystery Man who keeps popping up to aid Iron Swallow for reasons unknown. It is eventually revealed his father was Mo Shing Yee, Iron Swallow’s father’s best friend, and died alongside him in the original incident. Now the son continues his family’s legacy.

Iron Swallow

The biggest draw for Iron Swallow is the kung fu choreography. This was back when the audience demanded skilled choreography that was actual fighting techniques and not singer/models jumping around with CGI and wires. There is plenty of that action here, and the combatants go at each other with hits that look hard and don’t waste time trying to do superfluous moves that look nice but just waste energy. Chia Ling does a particularly nice job, fighting several different masters who try an array of different fighting styles, but they all fall before her. The final fight is spectacular. Long brutal battles amongst the pines, with combatants with mixes of reluctance or eagerness to finally fight. There is even a twist thrown in, shaking up how things all fall together. Action Director Ho Ming-Hiu does a good job, I’ll have to check out some of his other works.

The main drama comes when the children discover their parents have secret crimes that are coming back to haunt them. Despite their pleas, the parents just refuse to talk about it. Ko Fang is torn between the life he has always known and the life he just learned was his reality while deadly revenge happens all around him. Tu Lung is forced to confront his idealism and hopes for pacifism with his father’s refusal to seek peace or face justice for what he did years ago. That become especially hard when it leads to conflict with Ko Fang.

Wong Wing-Sang’s Wu is a spectacularly creepy villain, showing up at inopportune moments to take out targets. He looks a bit off, with his hairstyle a twist on a traditional queue haircut, and constantly is revealed as following various characters. His skills are good enough to be able to defeat most of the characters, some survive only because others jumped in to help. His skills are superseded only by his arrogance and greed, and Wu takes down entire armed caravans while barely breaking a sweat. Wu’s downfall happens due to ill luck, and is confounded by characters who no longer have any mercy to waste on him.

Iron Swallow is like a laser guided missile homing in on her targets. She sneaks and slices her way through their defenses, but beyond maiming them, she leaves them alive, permanently disfigured for their roles in her family’s downfall. A character seeking revenge that just maims the opponents is a novelty in the revenge movie business, putting her in a different league. It’s not explicitly stated whether she’s letting them live so they can suffer, or if the attacks are specifically related to attacks on her father. The letting them live part also goes nowhere, as Mr. Chu just orders all of them killed. Chia Ling was one of the top female fighters of the 1970s, though in the West she was given the name Judy Lee to capitalize on Bruce Lee, and was even marketed as his sister. This was believed to have been done without her knowledge when her first film Queen Boxer was released. Chia Ling also appears in The Legend of Mother Goddess and Fight for Survival

Iron Swallow is presented in Biansing Scope! Scopes were really popular, everyone had to have one! The DVD is obviously sourced from a fullscreen VHS tape, including a few sections where the tape has been damaged by the ravages of time. I got the DVD during the CineD Secret Santa from TwistedLadder (along with an assortment of cool Godzilla figures!), you can check out her writing on her Tumblr or on SomethingAwful’s Current Releases.
Iron Swallow

Rated 8/10 (random pot, random snake in pot, did a bad thing once, lantern, go, jar, lock, darts)


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Written by Tars Tarkas

Tars Tarkas

Runs this joint!