Swordsmen preparing for a journey intend to escort funds for homeless victims of a Yellow River flood. They are visited with great show of formality by a villain who poses as a polite gentleman for a while, but then he & his men make it clear they've come to take the funds for themselves. Despite heroic resistance, the armed escorts are outnumbered & overcome.
With a dagger stuck in his back, another in the front of his skull, one of the escorts staggers into the next room & finds his family slaughtered, except for a small daughter, Ying-chi. He survives long enough to save her from being discovered, & passes to her a sad heritage: a destiny of vengeance, along with the villain's dagger from his forehead.
She grows up to be The Lady of Steel (Huang jiang nu xia, 1970), played by a cheerful Cheng Pei-pei. Fang Ying-chi's bright nature is sometimes clouded by the necessity of her mission of vengeance.
The kindly old sifu Brother Yuan (Ku Wen Chung) raised Ying-chi not just as a swordfighter, but also as an expert at dart-throwing art, which would assist her in overcoming the dagger-throwing skills of her inherited foe.
Director Meng Hua Ho made Cheng Pei-pei's great film The Lady Hermit (Zhong kui niang zi, 1971), & presented her in other fine films such as Jade Raksha (Yu luo cha, 1968) & Lady of Steel. Pei-pei is comfortable with this director & always gives him great performances.
Even just walking about she exudes self-assurance & sweetness & strength, for she thoroughly internalizes the whole scope of a martial heroine. And when she has cause to leap into action, it's impossible to look away from her on the screen.
In reality Cheng Pei-pei was not the great martial artist she sometimes seems to be on the screen, despite the praise she has rightly earned for expressing martial prowess. She did study martial arts to insure a sensible screen representation, but her real training was as a dancer, & as an actor, which for cinematic swordplay always serves better than some dusty championship award for kickboxing.
In a few films with action directors who did not know how to choreograph her properly, she looks a mite weak, but when the choreography is correct, her awareness of how she comes off on the screen makes her seem extremely powerful & skillful as a warrior. It's in her gaze, as well, as she really is a fine actor & not just the beautiful body.
At a local inn, the beggar king, Brother Chen Shan Yi (Yueh Hua), along with his band of beggars, begin to harrass patrons, causing trouble that erupts into swordplay.
When they try to rob an old swordsman, Ying-chi helps the old man with her dart-throwing art, then engages the beggar king in swordplay. Throughout the fighting, beggars hiding under tables are reaching out grabbing for purses.
Fang Ying-chi has inadvertently helped an ally of her enemy Han, while the troublemaking king of the beggars was in reality trying to obtain evidence of corruption when his begging & thieving followers entered the inn. He could in fact be a great help to Ying-chi if she could get beyond judging on superficial appearances.
She is waylaid on the highway by Han's men, who've been informed of her presence by the old swordsman she assisted at the inn.
They might well have gotten the better of her but that the beggar king & his homeless band assist her.
Lord Tsai (Wong Chung-Shun) is actually Han Shih-hsiung, the slayer of Ying-chi's family. He sets an elaborate trap for her, & soon Brother Chun will once again find himself in a position to save her from a sprung trap, at great risk to himself.
By then, Ying-chi is having feelings for the smiling young beggar king, such as goes beyond gratitude for his assistance. She admits to him that she has a fantasy of a stable family life. But he misses her cue, & brings her down to earth noting that as beggar, he expects only a life of storms & starvation.
Several moments in the film permit Cheng Pei-pei to show off not only her prowess & beauty in such a starring role, but also to show that she's a real actor capable of surprising performances.
So in one scene we see her in a snow-leopard spotted tabbard & high pointed sedgehat for the drama of costume, in contrast to a scene in which we see her disguised as a little old snaggle-toothed beggar lady, & she's just as convincing as a fake hag as she is as an actual young beauty.
Among the men in positions of authority, such as Lord Wu (Lee Pang-fei), the majority are corrupt, & under the sway of Lord "Tsai" the killer of Ying-chi's family.
But Lord Hsia (Fang Mian) is an honest man who would certainly intervene in the evil goings-on, but just doesn't know how far the conspiracy against good extends.
Lord Hsia is surrounded by evil men who know they must kill him for the road to be cleared for their perfidious tyrannies to flourish & grow.
The climax has our heroine assisted by the beggar clan in an action-packed raid on Wu's well-guarded hall, achieving revenge while at the same time saving the good Lord Hsia from betrayal.
Cheng Pei-pei is so extraordinarily beautiful at swordplay that it hardly matters the plot is one of the oldest of old hats. Her co-star Yueh Hua has a solid air of goodness about him, just as he does in several films starring Cheng Pei-pei. He is an actor of easy grace & exceeding charm who makes a perfect romantic foil.
Continue to next Cheng Pei Pei film:
The Lady Hermit, 1971
copyright © by Paghat the Ratgirl