Thursday, 26 November 2009

Golden Swallow (1968)

Golden Swallow (Jin yan zi) is a kind of sequel to Come Drink With Me, the ground-breaking 1966 Hong Kong martial arts classic.

What made Come Drink With Me so interesting was not just the female protagonist but the emphasis on relationships and emotions as well as on action. Although it has a different director Golden Swallow follows a similar pattern. This is not just an excuse for lots of spectacular fight scenes and general mayhem. It does have plenty of excitement and lots of sword fighting scenes and even a surprising amount of gore for 1968, but it’s really a story about love and about friendship and rivalry, the rivalry being both romantic and professional.

Pei-pei Cheng again plays the great swordswoman Golden Swallow. She finds herself hunted by a large and varied assortment of bad guys all of whom blame her for killing large numbers of their relatives, friends and hangers-on. Since Golden Swallow has been living quietly in her cabin in the mountains with her boyfriend Han Tao she’s rather puzzled by this. She hasn’t actually been killing anybody at all. She’s been blamed because her signature swallow darts have been found at the scenes of the various massacres. When she starts hearing stories of the local adventures of a particularly ruthless swordsman named Silver Roc she starts to wonder if this is really her long-lost friend Little Roc. She and Little Roc had been involved romantically, but he had disappeared after taking a bloody revenge on bandits who had killed his family.

In fact it is the same man, and he’s perpetrating these spectacular acts of violence as a way of forcing Golden Swallow to seek him out. He loves her, and alway has loved her, but he can’t just tell her that. His pride can’t stand the idea that she may have forgotten him.

Golden Swallow and Han Tao both set off in search of the mysterious Silver Roc, whose only home is a series of brothels. Inevitably Han Tao and Silver Roc will fight a duel over Golden Swallow, but the really interesting conflict is that which is occurring within Silver Roc himself. His violent acts are his way of dealing with a world that has left him emotionally crippled. He craves recognition as the greatest of all swordsmen, and as a just man (he kills many people but justifies this on the grounds that they are all evil people). And he desperately craves Golden Swallow’s love, although he already has a woman who loves him, the prostitute Meh Niang. Meh Niang is in fact the woman who could make him happy, if only he could realise that fact.

The duel between the two rivals in love is interrupted by what is almost a full-scale war between the three main characters on one side and the numerous and powerful Golden Dragon gang on the other. The bad guys follow the usual pattern of these movies, with the chief of the Golden Dragon sending hundreds of underlings to be mercilessly slaughtered by the three heroes before we finally get to a showdown between the main good guys and the main bad guy.

The action sequences might not compare to those in later Hong Kong movies but they’re still quite impressive. Director Cheh Chang does a stylish job. Like most Shaw Brothers movie it’s colourful and visually lush. The three leads (Pei-pei Cheng as Golden Swallow, Lieh Lo as Han Tao and Yu Wang as Silver Roc) are all very competent. This is a classy production, and highly entertaining as well. It offers an effective combination of action, human drama and romance.


Samuel Wilson said...

I'm troubled by a sequel to Come Drink With Me without King Hu involved, but thanks to your description I'd be willing to give this one a shot.

dfordoom said...

I don't think it's as good as Come Drink With Me, but it's worth grabbing if you can find an inexpensive copy.