Beautiful Swordswoman (Taiwan 1969)

Rating: ***
Review Date: 9/28/08
Cast: Wong Ling

Three stars may be a bit generous, but I wanted to take into account the age of the film as well as the cultural environment at the time. This is your standard revenge tale that we've all seen hundreds of times. A nasty man adopts the daughter of a slain enemy who then rises against him to avenge her parents' deaths. This time, the beautiful swordswoman of the title is Yuan-Yuan (pretty Wong Ling), and for twenty years she's been secretly learning kung fu and never asking why. Now she puts her skills to the test as she murders her extended family and faces off with dear old dad.

A good looking and well made film in all regards, but the pacing is very challenging and the fight scenes look extremely weak. The movements are slow and clumsy and look more like Chinese opera than sword fighting. However, the fights are surprisingly bloody, especially considering when the film came out, and that lends them some credibility. While they lack strong physical skills, Wong Ling and her lady in waiting are delightful to watch as they slice and dice everyone who crosses their path. Their vicious scowls and fierce glares are far more disarming than their actual fighting skills, but at least they have that going for them. The cinematography is a bit off in places, but the sets and costumes are colorful and beautifully ornate. The music score is unremarkable with the sole exception of one deliriously out of place piece right at the beginning of the film. Holst's "Mars" is playing during a traditional Chinese wedding, which serves as an interesting audio cue that something is horribly wrong. It's a bizarre contradiction of sounds and cultures, as well as my own associations with "The Road Warrior" (1981). Overall, if you don't go in expecting much and can deal with all of the secret nods and glances that everyone gives each other, it's a pleasant way to pass an afternoon.