Iron Swallow (Review)
aka 鐵燕 aka Tie Yan aka Shaolin Iron Eagle
Story by Chu Yu
Directed by Cheung Pooi-Shing (as Chang Pay-Cherng)
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.
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.
Rated 8/10 (random pot, random snake in pot, did a bad thing once, lantern, go, jar, lock, darts)
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