The White-Bone Sword Part 1 (Review)
The White-Bone Sword (Part 1)
aka 白骨陰陽劍(上集) aka White-Boned Sword (Part 1) aka The Yin Yang Blade aka Ingentious Swords, Part One aka Bai Gu Yin Yang Jian, Shang Ji
Written by Sze-To On
Directed by Ling Yun
Break out the vintage machine because we’ve got some classic Cantonese fantasy wuxia for your entertainment. The White-Bone Sword dates from 1962, and is a four-part epic that features plenty of kung fu battles, along with lots of animated martial effects and three wonderful monsters to add to our Field Guide to Cantonese Fantasy Monsters and Creatures!
The White-Bone Sword (which also goes by a lot of names such as The Yin Yang Blade and Ingentious Swords, “Ingentious” isn’t even a real word so someone done goofed up the translation machine! The Chinese title 白骨陰陽劍 has “white bone” in the name so we’re going with The White-Bone Sword as the “real” English title) is based on a serial novel by Luk Yu featured in the newspaper Wah Sing Pao. I am guessing the story has the same name in the paper, but that wasn’t explicitly stated, so don’t take that as gospel. We’re going to call the sword the White-Bone Sword, but don’t be too shocked if a stray White-Boned Sword or two slips in.
The White-Bone Sword was the inaugural film series from Longway Movie Enterprise production company, which would make about six or seven other films before disappearing. It’s directed by Ling Yun (who would go on to direct the excellent Buddha’s Palm films!) and the scripts are by Sze-To On, who wrote over 250 Hong Kong movies and if you’re even a moderate fan of Hong Kong cinema you will have seen something he wrote. Basically, this is a great creative pedigree that helped produce an above average fantasy flick series that has some cool monsters and effects even as it suffers from some of the conventions of the day, such as a slower pace and weird filler spots. As usual with these rarities, there are no English subtitles, but at TarsTarkas.NET, we don’t need no stinking subtitles!
A helpful narrator explains the Tree Spirit and the White-Bone Sword while the Tree Spirit stomps around a cave and then jumps up and down, apparently causing a big thunderstorm while doing so. I don’t really know what controlling the weather has to do with being a Tree Spirit, maybe he’s a Tree Spirit but his job is being a weather spirit? Kind of how Larry the Cable Guy was a health inspector in that one movie. Anyway, the White-Bone Swords are found inside the Tree Spirit, and as the opening credits show us, they are actual bones that transform into swords that have bone motifs. Bones bones bones, so many bones you’d expect Jeff Smith to show up and start writing a comic about this series!
Wong Tin-ho and Wu Sheung-fung are training, along with the their member of their school, a lady whose name I never caught but she’s in all four movies and constantly saving the heroes from certain doom. She’s memorable not because she does kung fu herself, but because she controls a squad of hopping vampires, commanding them into formation moves by waving a flag around. At this point she has six vampires under her control, and she can lead them into complex maneuvers just by waving that flag. I’m gong to guess that she’s not in the film a lot because her presence would require having a bunch of makeuped actors hopping around in the background of all sorts of scenes, so having her just being someone who brings in the cavalry to save the day not only saves production budget cost, but also makes her character more important and memorable. She rules. Their Sifu sends Wong Tin-ho and Wu Sheung-fung to go retrieve the White-Bone Sword so their school can rule the martial world, Vampire Lady seems to be sent to help them, but will be taking a different path that is more hopping vampire accessible.
How the Last March of the Ents really happened!
Far away in a rich people house, Luk Fong-fei is riding Sai Gwa-Pau (I’m not sure what his character’s name is) like he’s a donkey and making him bray, at least until her dad comes in and makes her stop. Though it sounds like Sai did something bad which is why she was punishing him, but her dad isn’t pleased that she’s abusing the servants, which makes him a good dad. The Luks have taken in a sick beggar woman, Pak Ching-wah, and her daughter, Pak Ha-mui, who everyone just calls Black Girl so we will as well. As Black Girl is similar to Luk Fong-fei in age, they start playing together.
Two jerks are lording over town, Monk of Black Wind and Cheng Hang. One of them is played by Sek Kin, and the other is not. I’m not sure which one is which so let’s just declare Sek Kin is Monk of Black Wind because that’s the cooler name. The jerks are being their usual jerky selves when Wong Tin-ho and Wu Sheung-fung show up and drive them out of town. The people are happy, but it turns out the two jerks are part of a trio, and led by Ghost Mother, a woman who uses a skull prop as a conduit to magical powers. We see Ghost Mother use the skull prop to transform her poxed face and now she’s suddenly lot. So skulls cure bad acne? Good to know! If only I was robbing graves when I was in high school… Ghost Mother transforms the skull totem into a crystal, because carrying around a skull would look ridiculous, but not carrying around a crystal. Monk of Black Wind and Cheng Hang complain to Ghost Mother about how they got owned in town. Ghost Mother resizes the skull totem and uses it to generate a flying centipede animation that zooms in the air over town. the heroes see it and pull out a black ball they have, which generates a ball animation projection that beats up the centipede projection. Projection Supremacy!
Cheng Hang (non-Sek Kin guy) tries to attack Pak Ching-wah at the Luk home but she hits him in the eye with a needle, he retreats, but Ghost Mother gets the idea for all three of the gang to attack as she recognizes the needle as belonging to the clan that has connection with the White-Bone Swords. They barge in and demand the swords, while servant Pai takes the two young girls to safety. The villains beat up the elder Luk and Pak Ching-wah, then start tearing up the house to look for the swords. Unable to find them, they murder Mr. Luk and Pak Ching-wah (using skull magic to turn them into bones) and set the house ablaze (also by using skull magic!)
Pai, Black Girl, and Luk Fong-fei are forced to become street performer beggers for money for food. They are then accosted by the local street beggar crew, but Wong Tin-ho and Wu Sheung-fung (who had previously given the trio some spare change) fight off the attackers.
The villain gang animates a skeleton, which wiggles around because it’s bones controlled by a puppeteer off-screen and looks ridiculously crazy (and it is accompanied by spooky music, which makes this even more awesomely ridiculous!) They send the skeleton to attack Luk Fong-fei and Black Girl. Wong Tin-ho and Wu Sheung-fung are awoken either by the noise of Pai bumbling around with the skeleton or by the spooky music and go investigate. The skeleton also can shoot animated flamestuff from its mouth. They fumble around a bit with the floating skeleton, luckily no one goes all House on Haunted Hill and falls into a vat of acid during the attack (I do promise someone does fall into a vat of acid later in this film, though!) Wong Tin-ho decides to attack it with his magic animated energy ball, which drives off the skeleton.
By the next day the evil gang is chasing Luk Fong-fei, Black Girl, and Pai again, and the trio hides in a building that also houses the six hopping vampires from earlier. That plot line goes nowhere except to remind us that Vampire Lady would have solved this problem already. They are chased a bit more until Wong Tin-ho and Wu Sheung-fung save them again and all five of the heroes hide in a cave.
The cave the Tree Spirit lives in!! How convenient…
The Tree Spirit begins to menaces them. To be fair, they did barge into his home, interrupting his relaxing evening of catching up on the latest YouTube videos. Swords are ineffective, so they attach Tree Spirit with the magic ball. The Tree Spirit shoots sparks at it! Out of his mouth! Yes! Take that, happy fun ball!
Also some seven-year-old girl with a sword shows up for a few seconds, tries to fight the monster with magic powers, then teleports away. We saw her briefly for a second earlier talking to a sifu we hadn’t seen before, so I don’t know who she is or what is going on here. Perhaps this is some Marvel style sequel hook? Or more than likely this has a simple dialogue explanation we are missing thanks to the lack of subtitles. The heroes hide in a hole in the cave too small for Tree Spirit to get through, though the Tree Spirit could easily get through the hole by slightly ducking, Tree Spirit is even ducking low enough to get through in the scenes where we are supposed to think it can’t get through!
Ghost Mother (the gang has been observing what is happening in the cave through the side of the cave, which means the cave is very bad at being a cave if it has a whole side missing, but I digress) tries to use the magic skull to attack the Tree Spirit, but it is no match for mouth sparklers!
Tree Spirit manages to grab Black Girl, but Black Girl pulls a tiny dagger out of her sleeve and stabs the Tree Spirit in the eye. Now this all makes sense, Black Girl’s mom had the dagger that could kill the Tree Spirit to get the White-Bone Swords, she ran with her daughter and gave her the dagger while the villains killed Mom.
Tree Spirit writhes in pain then drops dead. BOOOOO!!! Poor Tree Spirit, it was my favorite tree-based character in this film. Tree Spirit handily converts itself to a skeleton so the heroes can see it has two extra bones, the bones that are the White-Bone swords!!!
Dun dun DUNNN!!
The villains run in to try to steal the swords, but Vampire Lady appears with her hopping vampire army and uses them to beat up the villains, who are no match for a pack of vampires hopping in formation. Sek Kin is tossed into a pool of foggy water and turned into a skeleton (I told you someone fell into acid!) The non-Sek Kin villain is strangled to death by the vampires! Ghost Mother teleports away, because she has a sequel clause!
The heroes decide that Black Girl and Luk Fong-fei each get one sword, and then they’ll spend time learning kung fu so they can eventually avenge their parents against Ghost Mother. But until then, we got to be continued…
Rated 7/10 (bones, random sifu, totally a real skull, centipede style, a-ha!, random powerful child, comic relief)
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