Trilogy Of Swordsmanship (HK 1972)

Rating: ***
Review Date: 8/16/20
Directors: Chang Cheh, Yueh Feng, Cheng Kang
Cast: Shih Szu, Yueh Wah, Lily Ho, Lo Lieh, David Chiang, Ku Feng, Ti Lung, Chen Sing

"These were not heroes, nor did they achieve greatness, but the robber was sentimental and the prostitute chivalrous at heart."

An anthology of corrupt government officials and the brave and chivalrous men and women who fought against them. Each segment is co-directed by Cheng Cheh, which provides a consistent style throughout. It features a ton of familiar Shaw Brothers faces, although I don't know all of their names. The production values are good and the fight scenes are shockingly bloody. The stories vary from 30-45 minutes in length, and are fast-paced with a lot of action. There's not a lot of time spent on character development, but the stories don't require a lot of depth.

"The Iron Bow"
The Magistrate's son is a cruel and useless bully who desperately wants to marry a kung fu waitress named Ying Ying (Shih Szu), by treachery and force if necessary. He continues to apply pressure to the defiant Ying Ying, when a passing swordsman named Kuang (Yueh Wah) catches her fancy and threatens his authority. The bully attempts to arrest Kuang on false charges, but he leads his assailants away from the town in order to protect Ying Ying. Knowing that she can never be free from the Magistrate's son, she leaves town with her mom and little brother to meet up with Kuang in the Capital City. While this segment has no closure and feels like the beginning of a larger story, it's still fun to watch and has enough structure to provide a complete experience. Shih Szu is extremely cute and coquettish, and her fight scenes are full of precision and grace. Unfortunately, her execution tends to look slow and soft, which lessens the impact a bit, but the moves are complex enough to make up for a lot of that.

"The Tigress"
General Wang and a prostitute named Shih Chung Yu (Lily Ho) are madly in love with each other. Unfortunately, this causes Wang to disobey an order from the Magistrate, and he's sentenced to death. The sly and manipulative Yu visits the court to plead for his life, accompanied by the rest of the brothel. The flustered Magistrate is confounded and trapped by her logic, and forced to relent. Even his mother scolds him in favor of Yu's case. Determined to still punish Wang, he orders Wang to capture the notorious bandit Pang Xun (Lo Lieh), who is ravaging the countryside and longing for a glimpse of Yu's legendary beauty. Again, Yu flusters and humiliates the Magistrate when she volunteers to lead the mission and says that she'll deliver Pang Xun in three days with only a handful of people, or he can have her head. If she succeeds, he must address her as "amazing god-sister." What follows is a cunning and elaborate scheme by Yu and her sisters to entrap Pang and his men, and although she pulls it off without a hitch, a tragic twist results in a downbeat ending. This segment feels more like a fairy tale than a swordplay adventure, and Shih Chung Yu's beauty and intelligence are unrivalled. She exists and performs on an entirely different level, and her influence and immunity seem a bit supernatural and god-like as a result. It's a delightful tale of female empowerment and emasculation, as Yu and her sisters befuddle and outwit every man they come into contact with. A confident and compelling Lily Ho does a wonderful job and Lo Lieh is always a treat. The women are all beautiful, but Yu's first sister is by far the prettiest of the bunch.

"White Water Strand"
A group of bandits attack a police escort to free their wrongly imprisoned brother (Ti Lung). A wandering swordsman named Mu (David Chiang) happens to come across the scene, and allows the bandits to escape with their brother while also gaining favor with the government officers who were detaining the prisoner. A corrupt and sinister official (Ku Feng) invites Mu for a drink, only to drug him, arrest him, and sentence him to death as a warning to all would-be heroes. The bandits (who aren't bandits at all, but loyal patriots), mount a daring rescue at the cost of their lives, allowing Mu to escape and spread the news of government corruption. This segment feels most like a classic Chang Cheh kung fu adventure, highlighted by excellent choreography and graphic bloodshed. Ku Feng uses a bizarre weapon that's a net adorned with bells.