One-eyed bandit king Yuan Cheng Lieh (Fang Mian) is a deadly, villainous fighter who tosses caltrops or "iron thorns" with deadly aim.
He's had a longstanding rivalry with Yu Jian Ping (Tien Feng), an honest businessman who uses coins instead of caltrops in a similar fighting style.
We're watching Twelve Deadly Coins (1969), a Shaw Brothers wuxia in Mandarin, based on a story by mainland Chinese novelist Bai Yu (or Gong Baiyu).
Yu Jian Ping if forced to do so can kill a man with the toss of a single coin, & right away we see him kill a dozen bad guys with just a dozen coins.
He owns an escort bureau with many young martial artists under him. He has taught his guardsman Chiao Mao (Lo Lieh) the coin-fighting art, as also another in their brotherhood, Yu Hua (Ho Ming-Chung).
The latter Ping has not realized falls short of Chiao's pure & chivalrous spirit; indeed, because Chiao comes from a poor family, Ping has shown preferentialism toward Hua.
The heroine of the piece is the swordswoman, Yuan Rung-ehr (Li Ching/Lee Chin).
Li Ching is great in her role, convincing in action sequences. She'd been working for Shaw Brothers since she was about fifteen years old, & soon won a popular nickname, "Baby Queen." She made all sorts of films, not just wuxia.
Her character of Rung-ehr is the foster-daughter of the one-eyed bad guy. But she falls in love with with the chivalrous young Chiao Mao who works for her father's enemy.
This by the way is a rare & welcome outing for Lo Lieh as a hero instead of the villains he would generally play in films of the '70s. I really like him as a heroic figure, & never really understood how he ended up typecast the villain.
There are two cool swordswomen in the tale. The second is Liu Jing (Jeng Man-Jing), betrothed to Yu Hua. However, she has a hankering for Chiao Mao & she rather hopes he will overcome his insecurities to make a bid for her hand before it's too late & she's married.
Liu Jing is a two-sword gal. She & her betrothed Hua escort a large shipment of silver when they are waylaid on the road.
Among the highway robbers is the bandit princess Rung-ehr, & she too apparently knows the coin-throwing art though mostly she's into swordplay.
Rung-ehr leads her father's bandits to a victory against the Twelve Coins Delivery Service. Both Yu Hua & Liu Jing survived the fray, but lost the silver, to their deep shame.
This bandit princess had earlier clashed with Chiao, but when their eyes met, they were instantly attracted to one another & neither could harm the other.
She caught some of his deadly coins, however, & recycled them to kill a man while robbing the escort service. With Chiao's coins found to have killed a member of the escort, it's wrongly assumed he's a traitor.
Chiao meanwhile does not know he's thought a traitor. He is tracking the bandits hoping to recover the silver.
Ping's delivery bureau is closed down. Everyone has become convinced Chiao is responsible for this humiliation of the Twelve Coins Flag, causing Yu Ping's downfall.
After shitloads of swordplay, this misunderstanding will of course be sorted out. It's a fairly by-the-numbers story, neither dull nor scintillating, but fortunately not convoluted as are so many wuxia. It's pretty easy to keep up with the story, though I wouldn't swear I got quite all of it right.
When Chiao is captured by the bandits at their very cool-looking wide-staired headquarters, a perfect setting for a major swordplay sequence. Rung-ehr begs her foster father to spare the young man. He says that if they like each other all that much, he'll grant their wish.
But the promise is a sinister one, as insufficient groundwork is laid to make it credible Yuan Ceng Lieh would so quickly turn against his daughter.
As a result, the story really weakens at this point, as the only reason to turn against Rung-ehr seems to be exclusively because he's the one-eyed ugly-ass bastard. But if he's that relentlessly evil, he wouldn't've fostered her in the first place.
[SPOILERS ALERT!] Rung-ehr & Chiao Mao are tied to a wall in the bottom of a pit slowly filling up with water. Selecting the slowest method of doing them in allows them to exchange cornpone sentimetns of love, then they're submerged. There's not a lick of suspense in it as we merely wait for their inevitable escape from the well.
There is one big surprise in the story, & that's what Chiao subjects himself to in order to regain his master Ping's trust.
Ultimately our hero dies for his sifu or master, who realizes too late he has killed his own son.
Tragedy is heaped upon tragedy for an emotional climax, & even the arch villain repents before he dies, though really it's all very corny & silly [END SPOILER ALERT].
However, as it is the rare wuxia that is not corny & silly, this one's actually a fairly decent example of the genre, lovely swordswomen action & equally lovely guys in colorful fight after fight.
copyright © by Paghat the Ratgirl