At the overthrow of the Ming Emperor in the early 1400s, an infant prince was whisked away by heroes of Raw Courage (Hu Dan, 1969).
The goal becomes to get him to the province where the White Dragon Society can be counted on to protect him, & rebels can be gathered to the infant to restabilsh Ming rule, none of which has actual historicity.
Many will assist along the route, but it will mainly come down to three heroes to protect the infant, & find the treasure that will fund insurgency.
Foremost of the three is the heroine Xiuyi (the great Cheng Pei-pei) as the swordswoman who must also avenge the murder of her father (Lo Wei, who also wrote the script, & directs the film).
Then there's Jin Zhenxiang (Wu Fong aka Ng Fung) who grew up as a student of Xiuyi's father & has a like desire to avenge his death, plus he has been in love with Xiuyi practically his whole life.
And lastly there's Zhou Fei-yun (Yueh Hua, Pei-pei's recurring leading man), a veritable prince of the Beggar School.
Zhou Fei-yun is charming to the hilt, amusing when he wants to be, & more skilled & competent than his two companions who're a bit naive adventuring for the first time out in "the margial world."
Xiuyi soon acquires a perfectly understandable crush on the Zhou, such as makes Zhenxiong sick with jealous.
Pei-pei is as always thrilling & the film is captivating just for her presence. But I found the story more than a little disappointing for its uninvolving story & messy fight choreography that has few stand-out duels with worthy opponents as opposed to mere faceless targets for heroes to knock over.
Pei-pei spends most of the film with the baby strapped in a bundle on her back, which does not hamper her in swordplay, but it's not a very convincing bundle & serves mainly as distraction. If there had been a baby on her back as she leaps about fighting, it'd be dead of shaken baby syndrome.
Having to drag a baby along on a fight-filled journey makes for a difficult chore for writer, director, & choreographer, & the baby simply wasn't incorported into the tale believably.
When fights are in action, the baby is quiet as a mouse, asleep in its bundle, completely unaffected by the racket & the hard shakings.
But whenever it is necessary to hide from foes to avoid a fight, the baby reliably starts crying so that another opportunity for yet another workmanlike fight sequence can be added.
Identical action over & over doesn't make for as exciting a film as the wuxia genre too often assumes for itself. Raw Courage specifically is hampered by a redundant structure that requires our heroes with child-bundle to fight & escape, then fight & escape, then fight & escape a series of guarded checkpoints between them & the province of safety.
Redundancy is the film's foremost flaw, & seems to have derived from Lo Wei basing his script on a walk around the Shaw Brothers' standing sets.
He used just about every standing set available, to give the film a great variety of locations. But he only used one device to get the characters from one set to the next.
The script additionally never adequately explains why nobody ever pursues them between locations. After they get through any given guarded barrier they're pretty much safe until they are near the next guard post.
One of the set-ups never paid off at all. Our three heroes find along a mountain trail a cabin in the snow, with the family therein slain by mysterious someones who remain unknown. Every setting the film presents has been another excuse for a fight just like the other fights, but this time we seemed to be in for a snowstorm battle, prettier than average at the very least.
But not only do we never know who killed the family, we also get no action scene in during the snowfall. And in the major sequence in a mountain village presumedly fairly near the snow-covered cabin, there's no longer even a smidget of snow anywhere to be seen.
It's as though they got halfway through filming a snowbound scene & realized it was too hard to complete it so they just deleted the pay-off pages from the script.
Sometimes the tale's simplicity & redundancy seems aimed at very young children.
Attention-holding for kids would be the presence of the baby; the inexplicably blue-faced villain; a treasure cave; & a "singing beggar" (Li Kun) who sings obvious warnings totally ignored by our slow-witted heroic trio but kids in the audience would get it.
Child-appeal continues with a grandfatherly beggar-king (well played by Yeung Chi-hing) who is stronger than the young characters; a beautiful & very helpful grandmother (Ouyang Shafei); a heroic little girl (Tong Jing) who strives valliantly to protect her grandma; & of course the largely bloodless swordplay itself, safe enough for kids to be exposed to. Even the scores slain wearing pure white costumes show no blood on their tidy garments.
So all this seems aimed very young, & is not always effective for adult vewing, though some of the childlike antics do have broad appeal:
At the Mountain God Festival, amusingly childish costumes are worn by our three heroic fighters, more than ever aimed at children. Cheng Pei-pei gets dressed up as a white bear, then gets to dance in the head of a the large costume for the lion-dance which is very cool.
There's some fine humor especially regarding the character of the prince of thieves during the Mountain God Festival.
Moments spent at the Festival provide the primary scenes in the tale that things are happening that didn't already happen in the previous sequence & will happen again in the next.
When they finally arrive in the place where they expected the infant Ming to be safe, they're totally wrong, though nearly duped, once again in an obvious manner that'd have the kids in the audience eager to warn the heroic trio to watch out.
They get to have another big fight with the guys in white costumes, with some of the prettiest circling chorus-line choreography ever fobbed off as three-against-all fighting.
This is also the first time Zhou Fei-yun rather than Xiuyi has to carry the infant while swordfighting, as someone must've belatedly realized that plotwise the only reason she had the baby all the time was cuz she's a girl.
The primary foes in this one aren't exciting or well drawn. The one potential exception doesn't have enough screen time to seem important.
And that woudl be the bad swordswoman Yu Huajiao (Poon Oi Lun), skilled whether empty-handed, armed with sword, or throwing darts, & endlessly a bad girl. She is a henchwoman for bigger villains who just don't stand out.
There's no big resolution. Although the villains meet just ends in the treasure cave & we're led to believe the riches in the cave will support future revolt, the remaining heroes still haven't found a safe place for the child.
So it looks like after the film ends they'll still be out there doing the same stuff as redundantly as ever, & the redundancies outlive the film's length.
Continue to next Cheng Pei Pei film:
Shadow Whip, 1971
copyright © by Paghat the Ratgirl