Cheng Pei-pei plays her father's avenger in The Shadow Whip (Ying zi shen bian, 1971), the first of two films that took advantage of skills she obtained with bullwhip, the other being Whiplash (Hu bian zi, 1974).
The character array & bullwhip choreography is better in Whiplash. In The Shadow Whip the difficulty in controlling a whip's motion for safe choreography was too often in evidence.
The Shadow Whip opens with a folksong wonderfully performed by the old wagon driver Ersha (Lee Kwan). The wagon journey is interupted by bullies on horseback, & Ersha gets a thrashing before Cheng Pei-pei as Yang Yun races in on horseback to catch the runaway wagon with her bullwhip.
Ersha is not injured, but later in town he's still mad about having been bullied, & bolder than he should be when Yang Yun is there to back him up. He barges into an inn to challenge the bullies.
Alas, foolishly bold Ersha does not know kung-fu, & would've been killed if not for the intervention of Yang Yun, assisted by the wandering knight Wang Jian-xin (Yueh Hua).
Yang Yun, having revealed her skills as mistress of the bullwhip, captures Wang Jian-xin's interest, as he thinks he recognizes her unusual whip vs sword fighting style, & wants to know who taught her.
She learned these skillsfrom her uncle (Tin Fung) who lives humbly in a the quiet, snowy, mountain Red Pine Village.
What even she does not know is that her uncle Fang Chiengtang is secretly a famous whipmaster known to the underground "martial world" as the Shadow Whip. wang Jian-xin has been searching for the Shadow Whip, against whom he seeks revenge.
This was Cheng Pei-pei & Yueh Hua's fifth & final film together, the first having been the classic Come Drink with Me (Da zui xia, 1966). Their usual chemistry is tepid in this one, & veteran geezers as uncle & chief villain pretty much steal Yueh Hua's leading man thunder.
It was also Cheng Pei-pei's last film for Shaw brothers. She would go to San Francisco where she opened a dance studio after Shadow Whip was completed, & when next on the screen, she'd be with Golden Harvest rather than Shaw Brothers.
Although a pleasant enough entertainment, Shadow Whip is nowhere near the top of my list of best Cheng Pei-pei vehicles.
For one thing her costume for the role is not flattering, especially the white fur hat that makes her look like a cocker spaniel. I just so wished someone would knock that hat off her head so I didn't have to see it again.
There are also bits of wire-fu & horizontal flight & leaping onto buildings that I never prefer, which shatter any illusion of reality. In a typical scene bandits leap over a wall into the village courtyard though there was a big broad arched open gateway right there.
Then there was the bullying "Serial Trio" whose title must've sounded better in Chinese & who fight with bombs in a most foolish looking manner.
Whether the soundtrack is a flaw or not is a matter of taste, but it's often very Speghetti western. And visual continuity gets a mite discombobulated as the snow on the ground in Red Pine Village comes & goes at random.
The plot is miniscule. Her uncle is more or less hiding from his enemies, but they find him, so there can be lots of duels. That's pretty much the whole story. The point then was not in the storytelling, but to have a nicely pictorial winter adventure & dress Cheng Pei-pei in white furs.
Whip vs sword provides many opportunities for cleverly arranged fight choreography, whether it's the heroine's or her uncle's turn to shine with whip action. But even this strength of the film is uneven, as too much of the choreography is speeded up by the camera, which can look comical. Other scenes of action are showy & exciting.
The main thrill of the film is Cheng Pei-pei's flashing gaze. She can tighten her lips & dart her eyes to one side or the other & convey more menace than any weapon, & more beauty than seems possible for a mortal rather than a boddhisatva.
As rumor spreads that the Shadow Whip lives retiringly in a mountain village, the swordsman Hong Da-peng (Guk Fung) arrives in search of his old foe.
He's introduced as the Man in Black who leaves no mark in the snow as he treads along, & for a bad guy, he's Mr. Cool. But when Hong Dapeng murders Ersha, it's obvious he's gotta pay.
Hong Dap-eng the swordmaster in black leads a gang called the Sixteen Bandits of Yangyun. He has pursued Shadow Whip for his own vendetta.
Her uncle went into hiding after the ruin of the Yang family's transport/escort company. The rightful owners of the jewels had their whole family slaughtered. It was widely supposed that Shadow Whip killed the family & stole the jewels.
He is not the villain these people believe. He does harbor a secret but it is about his niece, not himself. Yun is actually Kaiyun, the only surviving member of the slaughtered Yang family.
In a rather peculiar plot twist, Shadow Whip turns out to have created a document explaining the entire history of the event, done in the form of a comic book, so that Yun would know all about her own past even if her foster uncle were dead.
There is one piece of information never known to him, missing from the illustrated diary: Who framed him for the theft & murders?
Assisted by the wandering knight who by now has come over to the heroine's side in this matter, they work out the clues together, discover who the real felon was, & Yang Yun cum Yang Kaiyun obtains family vengeance.
Continue to next Cheng Pei Pei film:
That Fiery Girl, 1968
copyright © by Paghat the Ratgirl