Sunday, June 24, 2007

[DVD] Golden Swallow (Jin Yan Zi) (1968)

DVD Cover

Touted as the sequel to King Hu's Come Drink With Me starring Cheng Pei Pei, this movie is anything but. Except for the return of Pei Pei's Golden Swallow role, Chang Cheh's movie doesn't share any similarities with King Hu's original, clearly stamping his own take on his movie utilizing the lead character from Come Drink With Me, and relegating her to supporting role status.

As a fan of the original, this is downright disappointing, as I had expected to see Pei Pei kick some serious rear again as the fabled swordswoman. Instead, what we get is a story involving a love triangle of sorts, with costars Lo Lieh as Golden Whip Han Tao, a man who saved Golden Swallow from bandits and nursed her back to health, and Wang Yu as a beau from long time ago, who now calls himself The Silver Roc. The Drunken Cat, with whom Golden Swallow rode into the sunset with, is clearly forgotten and totally written out.

In actuality, this movie can be renamed The Silver Roc. The story centers on this figure, an orphan bearing a scar on the forehead similar to Harry Potter's, and is one of the fellow disciples to Golden Swallow's teachers. Disappearing one night to seek revenge on his family's murderers, he resurfaces to look for Golden Swallow, and does so by killing villains in her name, in an attempt to lure her out of seclusion. Being the self-proclaimed number one swordsman with an attitude helps too, and not before long, our trio will meet, with Golden Swallow being indecisive about both alpha males, that they have to duke it out to settle scores.

In Chang Cheh's signature ketchup blood style, this movie doesn't lack in the gore department, with really bloody scenarios, dismembered bodies, slashes to face and an inspiration to Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, albeit done in a more straightforward manner. But some of the kung fu moves seemed recycled from One Armed Swordsman, especially Wang Yu's Silver Roc, who holds his sword akimbo similar to his One Armed days. And his much revered "Coup De Grace" killer move was never seen until the finale, and that too was too weakly executed and laughable. I wondered too about numerous scenes where characters liked to leap out of windows, clearly to a mat at the bottom, out of the screen. But one thing's a bonus, and that's having plenty of outdoor shots versus indoor studio ones, which boosts production values a little.

Still, it's a decent martial arts flick, but one which could have been miles better. With Wang Yu hogging too much of the limelight with his character in this movie, it suffers by neglecting the other leading characters by Lo Lieh, and especially Cheng Pei Pei, because the movie, after all, is named after her Golden Swallow, or in the original English title, it's the Girl with the Thunderbolt Kick (apparently it's a misnomer, she doesn't have that skill, nor executed any recognizable kicking moves).

If anything, watch out for a young Wu Ma as Hu Zhen, a supporting character and friend of Golden Swallow and Han Tao. Nothing memorable, but just a getting a kick out of recognizing a star (to me at least) in his earlier youthful looking days.

The Code 3 DVD by Celestial Pictures features remastered visuals presented in anamorphic widescreen. However, there are portions where the picture seemed out of focus, and I'm unsure if it's because it's inherent from the print it was transferred from. Audio is presented in Dolby Digital, with only the Mandarin track. Scene selection is available over 12 chapters, and optional subtitles are either Traditional Chinese or in English.

The special features are a bit scant. There are a total of 5 remastered trailers included, with Golden Swallow (0:58), Come Drink With Me (1:04), The Magnificent Trio (1:00), Five Shaolin Masters (1:00) and One-Armed Swordsman (1:00). There's also a section on "Movie Information" which doesn't have much, except for a photo gallery with 8 pages of 11 original behind the scenes stills, and 10 movie stills, the original poster for "The Girl with the Thunderbolt Kick" (the original title), a one page one paragraph production notes in Traditional Chinese and English, and the biographies and filmographies of Wang Yu, Lo Lieh, Cheng Pei Pei, Chao Hsin Yen, Yang Chi Ching and director Chang Cheh.

And included too which I suspect is included in every Celestial Pictures DVD of a Chang Cheh movie, is a documentary on the director himself (17:20). It contains interviews with stars of today and yesteryears, as they recount their memories and experiences of working together with the great man who has revived the martial arts genre, and other genres in the Hong Kong movie industry. For those who have not watched Chang Cheh's works, be warned of the loads of spoilers (character deaths especially) featured in it.

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