Ho Meng Hua's The Jade Raksha (Yu luo cha, 1968) is an artfully designed unusual wuxia with a brooding quality.
It begins with the sound of the heroine singing a doomful song in what appears to be a haunted wood, like some sort of banshee whose cry proclaims death.
The lyrics run: "The perpetrator of crimes/ Shall not escape horrible death." At dawn, the heads of some of the Yen brothers are seen hanging from the gutters of village buildings.
People believe the Jade Raksha is a forest succubus, not a human being. But she is Leng Chiu Han (Cheng Pei Pei), whose mother & father & little brother were killed twenty years earlier by members of the Yen clan.
The Yens are headed by "twenty brothers" & since it is unknown which of them killed her family, she is busily killing her way through all twenty Yens, besides taking down anyone who tries to defend them. The end result could well be the end of the Yen clan entirely.
The hero Lin Ying Hao (Tang Ching) would of course support a just revenge, but killing twenty men for the crime of one seems unnecessarily cruel. He wants to stop the Jade Raksha.
Ling Ying Hao hangs out with her for a while, at first believing she is a young man. Such is the recurring if inexplicable error made by characters in large numbers of these sorts of films, wherein a woman no matter how shapely & beautiful can be mistaken for "he" & "brother" for some while. It's even odder an affectation of plotting for The Jade Raksha since she sings in a womanly manner & some think Jade Raksha is a demoness, so why would others mistake her for a guy. Anyway, Lin Ying Hao doesn't figure out she's a girl until he accidently sees her naked. Pretty dumb guy.
Although they had already dueled to a stalemate, once he knows she's a woman he won't fight her again, being a sexist fellow, & he even decides not to interfer with her overbaked plan of revenge against all the Yens.
He has, in fact, his personal mission of revenge, for his slain father, so goes off his own way. Jade Raksha already has a crush on him, & at a crossroads she suggests they travel together. But he veritably spurns her, being very insistent about not wanting to travel with her.
We follow him to a town where he finds a man with the same name as the killer of his father, & cuts him down. When he discovers he's killed an innocent man, whose own small son swears he'll grow up strong & get revenge, Lin Ying Hao takes a length of cloth & ties his sword closed, swearing never to kill again.
As vengeance is a noble calling according to the society he moves within, his decision to never again kill could be taken as cowardly or immoral by some. But he now sees vengeance as a self-perpetuating road to tragedy, not justice.
One of the Yen brothers has obtained Ling Ying Hao's debt of honor by taking care of brother Hao's mother in his absence, & indebting her & her son further with easy loans. She believes Master Yen is a philanthropist, but her son suspects rightly otherwise. Still, a debt is a debt, & despite that Hao says he will never again draw his sword, his skill is so well renouned that Yen makes him captain of his guards.
All the other Yen brothers are by now slain & it is well known that the Jade Raksha will eventually show up for the final brother, & will likely kill his son while she's at it. Brother Hau is in a conflicted position. When she does show up, he tries as he did before to talk her out of her intent, as surely the death of nineteen of the twenty chief Yens was sufficient.
Jade Raksha disagrees. When Hua has to make a choice regarding his duty to the Yen clan, & his friendship to Jade Raksha, he chooses friendship, & helps her escape from one of Yen's ferocious traps. Master Yen hides his anger & tries yet to use Hua's friendship with Jade Raksha to advantage.
Meanwhile a pair of wandering minstrels -- a young woman & her blind father -- happen into the region. The girl, Yin Feng, has of late added a new song to her repertoir, which runs, "The perpetrator of crimes." When she is heard singing it, she is arrested as the Jade Raksha. Brother Hau intervenes but since he won't use a sword the men ignore him, so Jade Raksha herself has to make an action-appearance.
Brother Hua & the singer have fallen in love at first sight, to the angry disappointment of Jade Raksha. Ying Feng the singer is played by Wong Ching Wan (or Huang Ching Yan) who was a fresh face to wuxia, lovely, but most of us would prefer Jade Raksha, but Brother Hau does have a prejudice against women who can fight.
With filmic rapidity singer & hero decide to get married & her blind father agrees to it. Bbut now they must go face Hua's mother, who recognizes the blind man as her husband's murderer, the very man Hua was supposed to kill!
Ching Wen Liang begs Hua's mother not to reveal who he is, as if Hua knew, he would have to think of innocent Ying Feng as his enemy too, & they're so in love. Ching Wen Liang says he'll let the old woman kill him, but neither her son nor his daughter should ever find out his true identity as Shih Yang Shang.
The blind wanderer had, at any rate, long ago tied a scarf to his sword so that it could never be drawn, due to having killed his friend in an accident. He had thrown himself from a cliff in suicidal retribution against himself, but had fallen in thorns & been blinded.
Tearful & bitter, old Mai Chuen, our hero's mother, lets the blind man off, out of pity for the young couple.
Bad Master Yen kidnaps the blind man & his daughter & Hua's mother in order to induce Hua to fight Jade Raksha. He won't break his vow to save them, but begs Jade Raksha to save them for him.
Bitter though it feels to be asked to save the girl he loves, she agrees to turn herself over to Yen. In exchange for the terrible risk she is taking, she extracts a promise of marriage from Hua, who at first refuses given that he's in love with the minstrel girl, but realizes he has no choice but to accept the terms if his beloved's life is to be saved.
Yen gleefully binds Jade Raksha near the ceiling, suspended in chains. She remains uncowed as she demands to know, before she dies, which of the Yen brothers really killed her family. Yen really wants to rub it in, & so tells her how he managed to trick Shih Yang Shang into believing he killed his best friend. But there was one witness to what really happened, whom Yen followed home, & killed that man & his family.
Hua has overheard this confession & as Jade Raksha unexpectedly bursts her chains, Hua finally breaks his oath & draws forth his sword. The big finale is upon us, & it goes precisely as we knew it would.
It's a pretty exciting series of duels, including the assistance of the blind stickfighter who'd for twenty years lived under a sense of guilt when he was not actually to blame. Jade Raksha gets the last duel by the riverside. Not once is she undermined as the story's most powerful presence.
But of even greater interest is the film's coda, in which Jade Raksha expects Hua to honor his promise to marry her. He sets off to say his last farewell to the woman he actually loves.
This is not the sort of scene one usually gets in these all-action sorts of films, & I for one would like to see more bits about character & interplay apart form martial arts & revenge & all that spiffy stuff. For it helps make The Jade Raksha a much better than average wuxia.
Continue to next Cheng Pei Pei film:
Lady of Steel 1970
copyright © by Paghat the Ratgirl