One of the great & possibly the greatest of swordswomen beauties of wuxia is Cheng Pei-pei. In The Thundering Sword (Shen jian zhen jiang hu, 1967) she is as beautiful as ever. But it's most assuredly not one of her best films, as she spends much of it whinging & crying, & the action scenes are few, short, & poorly staged.
One of the recurring faults of wuxia as a genre is that the action takes such precedence that it becomes meaninglessly nonstop with scarsely any story providing a reasonable context for so much violent mayhem. So it could have been a good thing that The Thundering Sword reversed the action-to-story ratio.
I wouldn't've minded the reduction in percentage of swordfighting if what little there was had been well staged, & especially if the story being told in lieu of lots of action had been worth the telling.
But in spite of a few martial moments that startle -- as when Jiao Jiao So rams her sword into an innocent escort service member's forehead -- by & large the swordplay is unimpressive. And the story has trouble exerting any power through the melodramatic over-acting.
A mountain martial arts school or clan has decided that an evil weapon called the Tin-de Sword must be destroyed.
As the tale opens, the school's sifu (teacher) has been sealed in a box for three months, during which period his hair & beard turned white.
His students gather for his waking. He spent the time meditating on how to destroy the Thundering Sword, but has failed to discover a means.
Yet for as long as such a sword exists, there will never be peace between the clan schools.
So two of the sifu's finest students, Chiang Kun Yuen (Lo Lieh) & his brother Chien Wen Yu (Chang Yi), set out on separate paths to find The Thundering Sword to bring to their sifu, who will continue to meditate on the means of destroying the black-steel sword.
Cheng Pei-pei as Chiao-Chiao Su or Jiao Jiao So appears along the road on horseback. When men try to disarm her, she takes care of them with poison darts & bullwhip.
She afterward sings a folksong about the one man her whip could not touch, hero Chien Wen Yu, who had counselled her against her tendency to kill first & ask questions later.
She spurned his advice, but not the man himself. Her thoughts become obsessed with love of him.
Chiang Kun Yuen meanwhile found a trap-laden tomb in which the Thundering Sword was hidden. He follows grave robbers into the tomb & sees the traps kill the would-be thieves.
He, however, seeks the sword only to bring it to his sifu who will continue to mediate on its method of destruction
As he escapes the tomb with black sword in hand, he encounters the woman warrior Jiao Jiao So, who is seeking the sword for her school's prestige. Kun Yuen is injured by one of her poison darts.
She belatedly realizes she has wounded the brother of the man she fell for along the road, she gets her first clue that the advice not to kill so quickly was good advice.
Kun Yuen falls into a deathlike trance from the poison dart. Jiao Jiao So hires an escort service to transport him swiftly to his sifu's temple where he can get the antidote which must be administered within three days.
But yet another rival school spots the escort service transporting the seemingly dead man & assumes so many guards would not be hired to protect a corpse. They waylay & scatter the members of the escort service. Finding the near-dead man actually alive, they torture & cripple him.
When Chien Wien Yu finds out the escort service failed in their duty, she once more appears in male guise & kills them all, for she cannot help being cruel & impetuous. Every time she acts to correct a past mistake she compounds it!
Thirty-two men died that day. Her harsh act was unexpectedly blamed on hero Chien Wien Yu, the man she secretly loves. She is full of regret that hero Yu has become a wanted man.
When she attempts to confess that she was the killer, she is not believed because it's obvious she's in love with, & covering for the killer Yu.
Since the action quotient is lowered for a love story instead, the chance to see Cheng Pei-pei playing a semi-villainous character is undermined. The issue of the Thundering Sword pretty much goes on the back burner while hero Yu gets captured & tortured for his purported crime, & eventually rescued by Jiao Jiao So.
There's a second swordswoman in the story. She's the sister of Chien Wen Yu & Chiang Kun Yuen, played by Shu Pei-pei.
She understandably dislikes Jiao Jiao So the cause of hero Yu being mistaken for an outlaw & the cause of Kun Yuen becoming permanently crippled. Yu believes that even though Jiao Jiao So is a member of an evil school that uses poisons, it is possible for her to have a chivalrous heart even so. His sister is less understanding.
Suddenly the issue of the black sword is remembered. Since last the plot considered this sword, a second one just like it has apparently turned up. Two schools have successfully obtained what they each thought was the only Thundering Sword.
A perfunctory swordfight to test which is the real Thunder Sword results in each sword destroying the other, as both were real, & the object of school rivalry is no more.
It was disappointing that Cheng Pei-pei did not use one of these swords. The final duel excluded all major characters in the tale. But as the choreography wasn't much anyway, it perhaps doesn't matter.
And finally, a tragic ending is tacked on perhaps because Jiao Jiao So must by some moral stricture in storytelling to redeem herself of her violent crimes by the ultimate sacrifice.
copyright © by Paghat the Ratgirl