The Swords of Tien Shan (Review)

The Swords of Tien Shan

aka 天山龍鳳劍 aka Tian shan long feng jian aka 神劍女瘋俠 aka The Magic Sword and the Eccentric Lady Knight aka Shen Jian Nu Feng Xia

Written and directed by Wong Fung

Mysterious super swords cause a whole heap of problems in The Swords of Tien Shan. This Cantonese wuxia flick is believed to be a coproduction of two different companies, each producing one part of the two-part feature film. According to reports, part 1 was produced by Hoo King Motion Picture Co., while part 2 is credited to Lap Tat Film Co. Wong Fung (How The Ape Girl Stole The Lotus Lamp, The Blonde Hair Monster, and Golden Skeleton) wrote and directed both parts, so this looks like just a unique way of crediting a coproduction. The two films were later edited down into a single film and retitled The Magic Sword and the Eccentric Lady Knight (神劍女瘋俠), which is the version I am reviewing as the original two films are unavailable (and might be lost?)

The editing of two films into one does cause a bit of a problem, because the flow of the film is now even more disjointed, and at times characters wander off for reasons not explained, or are introduced as already established people. This is complicated because there are already so many characters, and because this is an older Cantonese wuxia flick, the pacing is already a lot more casual than a modern film. The disjointedness hurts the film, but it doesn’t mean it’s awful, it just becomes a weirder wuxia epic. It also focuses on different actors than the story of the original films, downplaying and almost eliminating several major characters. Instead, the film focuses mainly on Josephine and Sek Kin, with a lot of Connie thrown in (though at least one major Connie Chan scene is MIA)

The important thing to remember is there is a guy in a gorilla costume! This is important, because that makes The Swrods of Tian Shan TarsTarkas.NET’s entry into the new MOSS conspiracy, Hairy Beasts! MOSS is the Mysterious Order of the Skeleton Suit, and is a collection of all the cool cats with cool websites/podcasts/shows who review and watch and read all sorts of crazy stuff. Check out other Hairy Beasts entries at the above link, including houseinrlyeh taking on Bigfoot, TeleportCity vs Red Riding Hood, and Monster Island Report and TheCulturalGutter discussing hairy beasts!

The gorilla costume looks like it is the same one used in How the Ape Girl Stole the Lotus Lamp, though this film was made first and the gorilla Yin-yin is a semi-major character here. I would theorize that the gorilla costume was made for this film, but I would not be surprised at all to see it show up in other earlier films, either.

Being a Cantonese wuxia flick from the 1960s, some of the familiar stars are here. Young Josephine Siao and Connie Chan are running around (Connie playing a boy once again!) Sek Kin is a former villain, Lau Hark-suen is a weirdo, Sai Gwa-Pau and Mui Yan are “comic relief”, and Simon Yuen Siu-Tin is an eccentric kung fu master and teacher. Because of how things were carved up as the two films were merged, I’ll add in some missing portions quoted directly from the HKFA synopsis. But there will be some gaps where things make little sense. And since this film is pretty darn rare, the film synopsis will be detailed detailed detailed.

Kam Ming-chu (Josephine Siao Fong-Fong) – Female Kam sibling who is a student of Kei Sun-kung, before her brother is killed and she is driven crazy by Snake Fruit thanks to getting involved in the Swords of Tien Shan mess.
Kam Siu-long (Connie Chan Po-Chu) – Male Kam sibling (yep, Connie Chan is playing a boy again!) who is killed when the Swords of Tien Shan mess is dropped on his rooftop. Eventually risen from the dead in a non-zombie form. Oddly enough, the Kam parents disappear from the film after his funeral and neither sibling bother to look them up later or even let them know Kam Siu-long is alive again.
Kei Sun-kung (Sek Kin) – Sifu of the Kam siblings who is a former bandit, and might not be as former as you think. He has one weakness: being behind him!
To Sam-tin (Lau Hak-Suen) – An eccentric witchdoctor who has been driven insane via ingesting Snake Fruit. He’s sane enough to try to steal the Swords of Tien Shan when they surface. Lau Hak-Suen was an actor who appeared in 488 films from 1934 until 1983 (his death). Towards the end of his career his output slowed down and he tried his hand at directing a few times. His quote “Ladies, please drink up for it’s only sugar water” lives on in the internet today.
Fatty Disciple (Mui Yan) – To Sam-tin’s larger bumbling assistant who spends most of the film doing goofy things.
Scrawny Disciple (Sai Gwa-Pau) – To Sam-tin’s scrawny bumbling assistant who also spends most of the film doing goofy things. Can act like a cat.
Iron Arhat (Simon Yuen Siu-Tin) – Monk who lives in a cave meditating all day, when he isn’t wandering around in graveyards reviving dead children. Is the most powerful person in the film, thus he doesn’t do much of anything.
Yin-yin (???) – Awesome gorilla who lives with Iron Arhat and screams an all too human scream. Likes to do good deeds.

The new cut actually begins after the original film has a lot happen:

With help rendered by the Flying Burglar Ngok Kim-chau, constable Fong Kong flees from the malicious charges brought against him by a corrupt official. Fong’s daughter Yuk-kam is imparted the Swords of Tian Shan fight by her mentor Lau Yu-ang to avenge her father. Yuk-kam chances on the retired bandit Kei Sun-kung and his proteges, Kam Ming-chu and brother Siu-long who mistake her for the Flying Burglar.

We actually open with Yuk-kam wandering around on some rooftops, where she’s spotted by Kei Sun-kung, Kam Ming-chu and Kam Siu-long. They move to attack her, because someone flying around on the rooftops is pretty suspicious. In the brief battle, Kam Siu-long is injured, and then Yuk-kam gets injured herself and runs off (helped by Flying Burglar Ngok Kim-chau), dropping the Swords of Tian Shan. Just to show how awesome these swords are, they glow in classic 1960s Cantonese wuxia style, which means drawn on magic lines.

To Sam-tin is an annoying crazy person dressed like an evil Disney wizard, who is described as a witchdoctor in the translations. He makes lots of noise in town, attracting the attention of a gang of dolts, who he humiliates when they harass him. To Sam-tin has two students, a fat dude and a scrawny dude.

Sifu Kei Sun-kung and student Kam Ming-chu come to town to get medicine for Kam Siu-long, and To Sam-tin spots that Kam Ming-chu is sporting one of the Swords of Tian Shan. To Sam-tin and his two students plot, the students following her back home, with the scrawny dude mewling like a cat to throw off suspicions.

The two goons break into the house to steal the swords, they are so obviously looking into the house that it is impossible for the full family there to not notice them, but somehow, they are not noticed. When they go inside to the room where the swords are, Kam Siu-long tries to stop them, so they hurt him even more. The two goons manage to steal the swords, but are too incompetent to not get caught. Sifu Kei Sun-kung starts to rough them up, but by then their boss To Sam-tin is creeping by to see why his two lackeys are failing this time…

To Sam-tin fights Kei Sun-kung off and gets his men out with the swords…but the swords are fakes so don’t worry! How did Kei Sun-kung get accurate fake swords made so quickly? Don’t ask. Why did he put the fakes somewhere that a burglar could further injure his student? Don’t ask.

Student Kam Siu-long is more than injured this time, he dies as the home invaders have messed up his medicine! NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

Kei Sun-kung is distraught, and buries the Swords of Tian Shen with Kam Siu-long. You can probably guess what happens next, those dastardly To Sam-tin guys dig up Kam Siu-long’s body and steal the sword! Also a random monk named Iron Arhat wanders by and sees Kam Siu-long’s body and decides to take it for himself (using super secret monk spiral ray powers!) Luckily this is a kung fu film, so you know he’s going to to something with that body besides be all pervo on it.

Kei Sun-kung and Kam Ming-chu stumble across the vandalism, and vow to get Kam Siu-long’s body back.

This is where Part 1 Ends, and Part 2 begins with scenes not in this edit, so let’s mention them now:

Fong Yuk-kam is delivered to the haven of Jade Buddhist Temple by Ngok Kim-chau’s master Ma Ying-yu while recuperating from her injury.

Fascinating. Aren’t you glad I kept you updated on Fong Yuk-kam? Now on to what actually is in the film…

Iron Arhat has taken Kam Siu-long’s body back to his cave. He calls in his gorilla buddy, Yin-yin. Yin-yin is awesome! The best part is the actor in it yells out a very human “YAAARRRRGGGGGHHH!!!!” when he first comes in frame to show off how fierce Yin-yin is. Iron Arhat needs Yin-yin’s permission to take some blood, Yin-yin finally agrees (after yelling out in horror when he finds out the plan!) and then yells in pain when the monk just stabs him in the arm with a knife! Yin-yin does a lot of yelling. And this must have been made before the invention of the needle.

Scream, Yin-yin, Scream!
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To Sam-tin and his men celebrate having the Swords of Tian Shen. Unfortunately, To Sam-tin is having a crazy episode again (he’s been nuts ever since he ate the magic Snake Fruit that makes people crazy. Just to show how crazy To Sam-tin is, there is a piece of Snake Fruit in their hideout, guarded by an actual snake! Why do they have this again? To Sam-tin must go crazy a lot, because they have a specially designed jail cell for him to chill out in.

Kam Siu-long is now alive and meditating with the Monk Iron Arhat. Yep, it looks like the scene where he was brought back to life is missing, or just implied. But why implied when you can have a cool scene? And why skip explaining why Kam Siu-long hasn’t bothered to go back to his parents and sister? Yin-yin comes into the cave and wants to show Kam Siu-long something cool, and drags him away (we never get to see what cool thing it was, is this yet another missing scene?) This is bad timing, because Kam Ming-chu then wanders into the cave in the search for Kam Siu-long’s body. She tries to bug Iron Arhat, who’s protected by his magic meditation spells, but he does tell her where To Sam-tin’s cave is.

Kam Ming-chu creeps in to find To Sam-tin still locked up in the jail. He convinces her he was locked up by the people who stole the swords, so she let’s him out. Then he laughs because he’s crazy and makes her eat the Snake Fruit! When next we see her, she’s dancing like a crazy lunatic in town, To Sam-tin showing her off like a proud papa. When Sifu Kei Sun-kung spots her, she acts like she doesn’t know him, and then a random guy gets into a fight with Kei Sun-kung that ends when To Sam-tin steals Kei’s sword and he and Kam Ming-chu run off.

To Sam-tin and Kam Ming-shu wander by the Buddhist Rock, where they are confronted by two more people (a man and woman) and a scarred-face angry sifu who is their boss. They are not happy at To Sam-tin and Kam Ming-shu, but they hate Kei Sun-kung even more, since everyone teams up against him when he wanders in. He fights valiantly, but he’s vastly outnumbered and gets a flaming candle to the back. Kam Ming-shu runs off, so she misses Kam Siu-long show up and defend the wounded Kei Sun-kung, taking him to safety.

Some scenes seem to be missing, because suddenly Kam Siu-long is hanging out in town and talks smack to To Sam-tin and his two disciples, so To Sam-tin sics Kam Ming-shu on him! The two siblings have a knife fight (Kam Ming-shu doesn’t seem to recognize her brother, either) but Iron Arhat stops the fight. A nice thing to notice here – Connie and Josephine are supposed to stick their knives blade first into the table so they stand up all cool like. But the table doesn’t want to cooperate, which results in Connie having to stand holding her knife straight up, and one of To’s students takes Josephine’s knife and stabs it harder into the table until it sticks. They do all of this while other characters are talking. Doing retakes over things like this would have been too expensive, so the cut stays in the film. This shows both the rapid pace of Cantonese 60s cinema and how the actors learn to cover up errors during filming.

While the characters are discussing things, another lady teleports into the room and kidnaps Kam Ming-shu! This is the first time we see Flying Burglar Ngok Kim-chau in this edited version, and she’s just a complete “Huh?” thanks to not knowing she’s supposed to be a major character! She’s after the swords as well, and is trying to find them at To’s place using Kam Ming-shu. To Sam-tin arrives back at the hideout in time for him to get into a fight with Flying Burglar Ngok Kim-chau over the swords, which are hidden in the ceiling – just the place to foil a flying burglar…

But Kam Ming-shu grabs the swords and runs away, ending up at the Buddhist Rock. She’s going to chop up the rock, when the scarred sifu from earlier and his men try to stop her. To Sam-tin and his men arrive and join in the fight, and then Kei Sun-kung shows up with a bunch of other guy’s we’ve never seen before, and it’s suddenly a huge battle royale!

It also seems that Kei Sun-kung is evil and this is his evil gang, though they all get slaughtered and even Kei Sun-kung is killed (stabbed in the back again! Guy should really watch his back….) Finally, Iron Arhat, Kam Siu-long, and Yin-yin arrive, and say that the Buddist Rock can be chopped up by the Swords of Tian Shen to get the magic sulfur inside, which is the only thing that can make To Sam-tin and Kam Ming-shu not crazy, as well as cure the scarred sifu’s face. Everyone is happy and they all dance, especially Yin-yin and To’s men.

Wait, huh???? No one seems to care that most of these people are bad? To’s disciples killed Kam Sui-long! To did a lot of bad things while crazy, will he even face any consequences for what he did? Yes, I know he wasn’t under his right mind, but sometimes you still have to make amends for things that happened outside of your control. The only reason the three aren’t slaughtered right then and there is Iron Arhat brought Kam Sui-long back to life. But who knows who else died because of these guys? If they killed other people, the only dancing they should be doing is at the end of a rope!

The editing totally screws up the narrative and completely glosses over the Flying Burglar story and the original owners of the Swords of Tien Shan, who I don’t think even show up during the end party (at least not in a noticeable way.) It would be interesting to see how the original story was mapped out, but I don’t think there is enough of the charms I’ve seen in other old Cantonese wuxia to make it that much more interesting (unless there are many more Yin-yin scenes!) We could also use some more Sek Kin having fun being chewing the scenery evil. Still, it’s not a total loss, and it is sometimes cool to see how other countries edit films together to capitalize on later-famous stars.

Rated 5/10 (He’s dead Jim, Really dead Jim, the magic rocks, She used to be a main character, she’s got the glow!)

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4 thoughts on “The Swords of Tien Shan (Review)

  1. Yeah, it’s too bad this one got butchered so that Connie and Josephine’s fans wouldn’t have to suffer through all the scenes without their favorite stars. Hey, how come you didn’t give any character icons for So Siu-tong and Yam Yin? You’re just as age-ist as those teeny-bopper fan girls! Seriously though, Connie and Josephine are indeed the main reason to see this, and it’s pretty cool to see them here so young. They must have been 13 or 14 years old at the time.

  2. Despite So Siu-tong having a huge role according to the synopsis, all he really does is look at people and then fight Sek Kin. And he’s no gorilla! Yam Yin at least sort of fits into the plot, but her lack of hit swinging 1960s songs sealed her fate outside of the Roll Call. Without Connie and Josephine this would be much more boring, Sek Kin isn’t that villainous until the end, and the big edits just make a lot of things very confusing

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