The Golden Seal (Jin yin chou, 1971) was Tien Feng's first film as director, though he was already long established as a leading actor. He also appears in a juicy role a bad guy. And there's a rousing themesong when the hero of the piece first sets off toward revenge, the lyrics for which were written by Tien Feng, a multitalented guy.
The fight choreography will prove to be uneven though the majority of the action sequences are either good or good enough to get by. The film's strength lies more in the array of interesting characters & especially the women.
Most of the characters have at least a little depth to them. Wu Xiaoyan's father Wu Tienting (Shen Chan), for instance, is an important subchief in an essentially villainous clan that specializes in theft, strongarming, & murder. Yet he would give his life for Xiaoyan whose dangerous rebelliousness he will ultimately support. Clan chief Lei Zhentien (Feng Ku) is by turns disarmingly friendly & relentlessly evil & in the climax certainly an admirable fighter, so a bit more than the usual one-dimensional bad-guy.
The young swordswoman Wu Shangyen is ably played by Wang Pin, who appeared in a handful of kung fu epics mainly in the early 1970s without quite becoming the big star she deserved to be. She received the Golden Horse Award for her support performance in Tiger Killer (Wu song, 1982), a version of the classic epic literary The Water Margin. But by then she was already at the end of her acting career.
Due perhaps to her round-cheaked baby-face, there had been a tendency to cast her as a helpless type of damsel admired for her beauty but without martial ability, until she made The Golden Seal & played the second-swordswoman in Duel for Gold (Huo bing, 1971) starring Ivy Ling Po. Had she had a greater percentage of such "heroine roles" she might've been better remembered today.
Green Dragon Clan had fallen into decline & it had become impossible to protect the clan treasures, in particular the Golden Seal, & a manual of secret martial stances. The seal & one young heir was spirited away to a secret place & raised with mastery of martial arts. When he was grown, he received the sword called Villains-Avoid & set out to avenge his clan.
That set-up for action is fairly standard, but the presentation is above average for acting & characterization, & adequate to good for action. It has some of the usual wuxia problems that fans overlook, & delivers all that a regular viewer of such films tends to be after. But it has some plot glitches. Even the value of the Golden Seal, revealed in the last three or four seconds of the film, was strained & silly.
In one of those standard "fight at the inn" sequences with characters arrayed at tables eating, drinking, conversing, a whimsical lady beggar & petty thief (Ping Wang) begins to pester people while observed by Dai or Tai Tianchou (Wa Chung), our hero.
Everyone despises the lady beggar (who in accordance with one of the recurring absurdities of wuxia is mistaken for a young man despite her beauty & lovely figure) but Dai Tianchou won't let her be kicked out. He treats her to a meal & obviously finds her amusing, though also thinking she's a young lad.
She's a superb fighter, a run-away from the cruel Sun & Moon Clan, the same as is Dai's enemy. Until realizing her gender, Dai calls her "brother," meaning a brother of "the martial world." The fundamental affectation of wuxia is that martial artists belong to a "world" apart with their own governance & regulations that would seem psychotic outside the martial world. Novice viewers often don't know the meaning of "the martial world" & are confused by the plethora of uncles & brothers who may or may not actually be related, as such films take a lot for granted without explaining.
Eventually Dai stops being blind to the obvious & realizes his "brother" is a sister or miss. When not in unconvincing disguise she is Miss Xiaoyan, petulant girl fighter, but when travelling outside the confines of the Sun & Moon Clan's regulations, she is known as Wu Dapeng, sometimes a beggar, sometimes a more dapper & tidilly dressed swords"man."
Fans & would-be fans of wuxia just have to get used to this ridiculousness because it recurs in a lot of films, partially as a hold-over from live theater that did not necessarily use gender-correct casting.
Xiaoyan's father forces her to return to the clan, & she wants her new "brother" to come too. Dai takes advantage to get inside the stronghold. It's truly a nasty clan of villains & though Xiaoyan's father has more of conscience than most of them, he's nevertheless served the evil chief for twenty years, so is certainly party to the clan's habit of falling upon & robbing & killing innocent people.
Xiaoyan appears rather cretinish at times, when she is shown in high spirits even while watching men in service of the clan chief Lei Zhentian torture helpless victims. She'll have to redeam her character by more than just running away now & then like a spoiled kid who doesn't like the rules. And indeed she does redeam herself in time.
Dai's first night in the enemy stronghold, he is witness to an attempted assassination by a black-clad swordswoman (Fung Yue). He follows her & ends up being wounded by the clan chief, & has to flee from the fortification with the failed assassin.
A third extraordinary & tough beauty is encountered by Dai at a waterfall. The dart that wounded Dai was poisonous & while the swordswoman-in-black (later in-blue) is off to purchase curative herbs, feral girl Shi (Liu Baak), clad a bit like Sheena of the Jungle, finds Dai unconscious & takes him into her nicely appointed cavern to nurse him.
There'll be a three-way girl-fight attractively choreographed, but not well justified, as the women fight over helpless Dai. Eventually they join forces against the bad clan, directed by an older woman, Feng Huiming (Ping Ha), whose face was badly scarred by the evil clan chief twenty years before when he attempted to kill her.
She is the sifu or martial instructor of her daughter Jiangi, raised with the one goal of achieving revenge for her mother. But there are terrible revelations in store for Jiangi, as her sifu-mother turns out to be a bit lacking in honest motherliness, with venom where her blood should be.
In the course of events Xiaoyan finds she must also be an avenger. When the clan chief's men have been sent to kill her, only one is strong enough to be a threat, White Dragon (Cliff Kam Tung Lok) being the cruelist & most powerful of chief Lei Zhentian's wicked followers.
The final fight sequence pits the good guy & four fighting women against one bad guy, which hardly seems heroic odds. It's usually one or two heroic types against a shitload of baddies, but this time the bad guy faces multiple foes & holds his own so well that it's hard not to like him best. But it's a pretty shitkickin' climax complete with obvious but nevertheles terrific plot-twist.
copyright © by Paghat the Ratgirl