Seconds into the opening of The Blade Spares None (Dao bu liu ren, 1971), Nora Miao Ker-hsieu is seen in swordfights along the highway, & there's not the least uncertainty but that this one's going to focus on a woman warrior first & foremost.
Starting behind the opening credits, a particularly remarkable scene begins with Nora on a very high platform exhibiting her splendid two-sword style to the public & to Prince Kuei. Her form is clean, direct, & credible, as oponent after oponent is cut down & falls from the platform.
The judge of the event wonders, "A mere touch would have served. Why does she have to kill them?" She's famously merciless, & someone nearby answers, "She is known as 'The Blade Spares None'." Her name is Ho Lichu, a woman "as cold as she is beautiful."
When there is no one else willing to die in the contest, one more swordsman is pushed forward, mostly against his will. He's prodded until he climbs the platform awkwardly, afraid of heights. He politely addresses miss Ho Lichu, "Please spare my life!" But she refuses to hold back anything & her swords spring forth.
Fearful though he behaves, he's actually quite a good swordsman. Not the equal of Ho Lichu, but good enough to evade being summarily killed. As he dodges her strokes & hops about the platform, he offers smart-aleck compliments like "Ferocious! Close shave! Real tough!" before leaping from the platform & fleeing from the courtyard with his life intact.
Lichou becomes one of four warriors who pass muster in the contest & are accepted into the service of Prince Kuei.
The amusing swordsman who fled was "the bearish knight" (James Tien) & the elder brother (in the sense of martial brotherhood) of Ching-yung (Patrick Tse Yin).
They break in on the festivities celebrating the four new guards of Prince Kuei, during which intrusion Miss Ho recognizes Ching-yung's strangely notched sword as having belonged to the man who killed her father ten years earlier. it can't be Ching-yung who is that man because he'd've been a kid at that time, but she assumes he received the sword from his sifu (teacher), & thus thinks ill of him, & instructs him hotly to tell his sifu that she is after him.
Later the two young men are camping outside of town. The trust & friendship between the two knights, & the humor especially of the elder brother, is part of what makes them such well-drawn characters. But momentarily elder brother is upset because the confrontation between Ching-yung & Miss Ho revealed that his companion of three years kept secrets.
The bearish knight complains bitterly & threatens to break up with Ching-yung, with strong intimations of there having been "comrade love" between them. Ching-yung begs him not to leave him, for "we must always be together," & finally reveals his history & his secret mission of revenge:
His full name is Tang Ching-yung, last of the Tang clan. Two villains had poisoned the Tang clan during a family gathering, seventy men, women, & children falling dead during a clan gathering.
Immediately after, one of the two murderers turned on his own partner, running him through with a sword & pinning him to a column. Tang Ching-yung, a boy at the time, bedridden with some passing ailment that kept him from participating in the poisoned feast, finds the seventy Tangs dead.
Bordering on hysteria, he pulled the sword from the body of the felon pinned to the column, & had used that sword ever since, until he could find the original owner & take revenge.
No one knew who it was that killed the Tangs, but now that the Bearish Knight has been aprised of the events, he asks what the slain partner looked like, & recognizes that the betrayed felon was formerly well known to have committed a number of crimes with Sun Tien-shen, called the Devil's Claw, a member of the Black Cult which taught a crippling hand-grip art. Devil's Claw Sun's partner had had a daughter -- none other than Miss Ho.
So she & Ching-yung it turns out are seeking the same man, he to avenge the killing of his entire clan, she to avenge her father despite that he had been a villain.
On some level Ching-yung feels that Miss Ho should be his enemy, too, because her betrayed father had participated in poisoning the Tangs. But he finds himself attracted to her despite all, which makes his elder brother spitefully jealous, though eventually they will all three share an idyll together while recovering from one of their group swordfights.
Miss Ho had entered the service of Prince Kuei following rumors of Devil's Claw Sun's whereabouts. As she snoops about she soon knows that Sun has disguised himself as Prince Kuei, & has megalomaniacal plans to overthrow even the Emperor, & has the champions of the contests disguise themselves as bandits to raise funds as highwaymen. Quite a treasure trove has accumulated in a well-guarded secret lair behind a waterfall.
The two knights errant & Miss Ho have sundry action sequences in which they are sometimes on opposite sides. But in the long ron they will join forces in battles against Prince Kuei/Devil's Claw Sun.
Nora Miao becomes a total action diva when she goes for Devil's Claw Sun. In a big three-against-all battle, Devil's Claw escapes, so what looked like the big climax turns into the penultimate battle.
A scene in which younger brother Tang Ching-yung admits he would like to stay with the woman known as the Blade Spares None inciting jealous anger in elder brother, who wants Ching-yung to leave with him for the open road immediately. They manage all three to come to terms & experience a brief idyll while recovering from wounds, the two swordsmen & the swordswoman living together in a forest hut in what approximates a domestic relationship.
Two more three-against-all squences arise in the secret hide-out & treasure-cave where the fake Prince Kuei & his warriors have taken refuge. Compared to the opening sequence with individual duels fought one after another on the high platform, these chaotic "big" battles are not the best part of the movie.
There's lots of clang-clang-clang & motion but very few stand-out moments until everyone is defeated but the hidden false prince, who comes out last of all for a duel directly with Miss Ho. And a bittersweet ending saves Ching-yung from having to chose between the two people he loves best.
Nora Miao remains a dour & intense character in all but the "idyll" scenes of housekeeping in the woodland cottage, & it's up to the two young knights to provide most of the lighthearted moments. The Blade Spares None is a fine little film, with more complex heros than usually encountered in such films.
copyright © by Paghat the Ratgirl