A soundtrack of surprisingly good traditional-sounding music, & cinematography well above Shaw Brothers' already reliable standard, makes Whiplash (Hu bian zi, 1974) captivating right from the opening scenes.
The plot however is standard fare, regarding a quest for missing treasure. Our heroine is called Tiger Lasher or Tigress (Cheng Pei-pei), introduced in a tiger-skin garment, using a bullwhip to shatter pottery jugs.
Her father is the one who found the treasure cave on a volcanic mountain & informed the government, being as he is an exceedingly honest man.
An interesting aside is he & his daughter Tiger Lasher are Muslims, unusual for the heroic cast of a wuxia film.
Tiger Lasher is home without her dad when bandits attempt to steal food & drink from her rural mountain roadside cafe.
She is quick to abuse the would-be thieves, though she goes easy on the butch-acting dwarf Lao Chi. The giant Lao Sze on the other hand she attacks wholeheartedly.
These first action scenes have varied, amusing, superbly staged fights that do not adhere to the standard treatments. Bullwhip action is not the easiest stage, & in many films resuts in less than perfect action scenes, but Whiplash is very effective.
When Tiger Lasher realizes the bandits have on them items her father had with him, she feigns a more polite demeanor in order to draw out information. She lets them have wine & tiger meat as she dances, drums, & sings a song "Let's Drink Tiger Bone Wine," a very operatic group performance unfolding most delightfully.
This is my favorite scene, as Cheng Pei-pei really was a great singer, & rarely has the opportunity to prove it. As she sings of skinning tigers, the bandits are a little uneasy, but continue to get drunk as she encourages them with song.
"Elder" is first to lose consciousness, but soon they're all out of commission, with Tiger Lasher singing even more aggressively over their inert bodies.
The bandits wake the next day trussed up in a bundle. She whips them until they reveal how they came by her father's tobacco pouch & knife.
These oddball bandits aren't random killers, but mostly only bullies. They found her father unconscioius at the mouth of a volcanic cave, where rocks had fallen, but had not personally waylaid him.
She forces them, bound in a row, to lead her to where her father might be only injured. Tiger Lasher completely breaks them to her will. They're strange funny characters & the performances are thoroughly entertaining.
They never give up trying to escape from the Mistress of Tigers. The giant breaks his bonds at night, & the resultant boxing match is one of the best ever, petite Pei-pei vs a brute, until he's attacked by a giant python & she saves him. Thereafter he owes her his life.
Tiger Lasher just wants to find out if her father is only injured, or dead. She forces the wild scruffy scoundrels to help because they're the ones who know where he fell. How they all change one another on the mountain journey is more important than the fighting.
It's not good news when they find her father. The government officials whom he led to the treasure cave turned out to be imposters, served by two muscle-dudes called the Bear Brothers, who attack Tiger Lasher & her captive bandits.
The dwarf will be a real hero by the end, & Tiger Lasher's final fight scene will be brutal. She gets really hurt. She & her final opponent wear each other down until they can hardly crawl or move but still trying to defeat one another.
This is one of Pei-pei's best films & one of the most original for fight choreography & characerizations, besides endearlingly human rather than just endless bravado. Tiger Lasher's final moment of prayer has a sad beauty, an nice little conclusion for one of her most successful films.
Continue to next Cheng Pei Pei film:
Brothers Five, 1970
copyright © by Paghat the Ratgirl