In The Mighty One (Tong zi gong, 1971), Ivy Ling Po plays Xiao Zhu, a swordswoman who must keep a martial arts manual called "The Mighty Power of Five Masters" from falling into the hands of villains. Whoever masters all five elements becomes "the mighty one."
When Xiao Zhu was a little girl, she saw her father & her older sister slain. She was thereafter raised by a great master of martial arts, so that she grew up to pursue revenge, as well as to keep the Book embodying "the Mighty Creed" from falling into the deceitful hands of her enemy Fang Yi Long (Lu Ping).
While Xiao Zhu is away training & growing to womanhood, we don't see her at all, so she is missing from a long patch of the beginning of the film, while we are introduced instead to other primary characters.
There are men severely harrassing a woman at a roadside inn, when in walks a Hero. You can tell he's a Hero because he's got the coolest sedge hat, plus he's played by Ling Yun, a popular leading man.
His name is Huengxiang Kui & he does a fine job in the requisit "fight at the inn" that follows, his empty hand style then his swordplay against an array of bad-guys' weapons. He also reveals telekentic powers, meeting the film'sSword & Sorcery quotient.
Elsewhere, old master Mo Gang Shan while in ill health is forced to fight the Master of Dragon Valley. Before the old gent is killed, the Hero from the inn intervenes, but he too is outmatched. As he is losing the duel, there suddenly appears the Swordsoman in White. This is Ivy Ling Po making her long-awaited entry in a big way.
This bad guy is Long Wu Tian who fights with a dragon-staff instead of sword. Xiao Zhu the woman-in-white is very polite, upbeat, smiling -- yet we never doubt that she'll win if & when the duel with evil happens. And indeed she soon proves she has an even more advanced telekentic power than the hero, besides superior swordplay with which to route the bad guys.
Xiao Zhu soon realizes the wounded hero Huengxiang Kui is her childhood playmate, a student of her dad's who was present as a child when her father was killed. He, too, has trained these several years, & is seeking revenge against his sifu's slayer.
Ivy's character though femininely shapely is called "kid" & mistaken for a lad, as she wears men's garments "for the convenience of a woman travelling alone." This is a conventional wuxia notion, that attractive women only need to wear one item of male clothing amidst her feminine garb, or wearing her hair in a bun, in order to pass as guys at least for a little while.
Ivy as point of fact was not a conventional beauty & might pull off such a disguise if she wanted to (see article on Ivy Ling Po's Gender Bending Roles), but in The Mighty One she's so womanly that the pretense of passing as a young man is the film's greatest absurdity. But as a conventional plot ingredient, wuxia fans just have to accept it.
The Mighty One was long out of circulation & alleged to be a classic of costume kung fu. Whoever didn't see it in the 1970s had no way of knowing for sure its merits or demerits. Now that a remastered restored dvd is available, it can be said that it is not one of the great films of its kind like Touch of Zen (1971) or The Lady Hermit (1971). But it is certainly highly entertaining.
It is one of those films that comes dangerously close to being "all action all the time with no story." Some of the weaponry & fighting techniques are bizarre & more laughable than awesome. The "wire-fu" is effective & restrained, & even a bit groundbreaking. I prefer realistic fighting to wire-fu but in this case it heightens the sense of a Sword & Sorcery tale, & is not overused it it would frequently be later in the development of kung fu cinema.
The choreography is great fun to watch. The hero & especially the heroine have enormous charisma. I like best films that also tell a decent story, buyt the overall production values for The Mighty One are top of the line for Shaw Brothers' style of mostly-fighting wuxia.
Many fans of such cinema like 'em this way -- less story, more fights, & the more wire work the better. But for my taste even the most imaginative & colorful action is works best with a strong story-context & characters with more than one dimension.
Time & again Ivy, as an extravagantly effective physical performer, is forced to draw the viewer back into the film by the strength of her personality, while the director, writer, & action director repeatedly undermine her with faulty shtick.
The climactic battle is wonderful eye-candy & epic in structure. Yet it includes a few sillinesses such as the straw hat tossed like a circle saw cutting into someone's heart. Then there's the guy pounded into the ground who keeps fighting fiercely. It seems unlikely the audience was supposed to find this action merely funny, yet some of these bits are inescapably spoofy.
In all, The Mighty One is an enjoyable commercial product, but not in the running for an authentic classic because it tells far too thin a story.
copyright © by Paghat the Ratgirl