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Lo Wei: The shadow whip (1971)

The shadow whip – Lo Wei (1971)
Mandarin | Subtitle: English | 1:18:10 | 720 x 320 NTSC | DiVX | MP3 – 128 kbps | 1330 MB
Genre: Action

Cast: Cheng Pei-Pei, Yueh Hua, Tien Feng, Ku Feng, Wang Hsieh, Lo Wei
Bandits and heroes both come looking for the legendary fighter known as ‘The Shadow Whip’ (Tin Fung) who lives in seclusion with his apprentice Yang Kai-yun (Cheng Pei-pei) and the truth about a crime committed fifteen years ago.
Lo Wei, former film star-turned-director and the self-proclaimed discoverer of Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan helmed The Shadow Whip, one of his last films with Shaw Brothers before moving on to Golden Harvest and eventually striking out on his own. This wuxia pien set in the fabled martial world re-teamed Asia’s top martial arts queen Cheng Pei-pei with Yuen Hua five years after the pair wowed audiences and became action superstars in Come Drink with Me. It’s loaded with old school swordplay action that hasn’t aged as well as its contemporaries, but memorable snowy locales and lots of entertaining bullwhip usage, coupled with the stars’ charisma makes this effort worth visiting.
Led by peerless swordsman Hong Da-peng (Guk Fung) whose skill is such that he doesn’t even leave footprints in the snow, the infamous Sixteen Bandits of Yanyun come to a remote village looking for Fan Cheng-tian, the Shadow Whip (Tin Fung) who has been missing for fifteen years after purportedly killing a noble family in the martial world. As these men and a mysterious young swordsman named Wang Jian-xin (Yueh Hua) close in on Fan, his only student Yang Kai-yun (Cheng Pei-pei) becomes determined to learn the truth about her master’s past which is ultimately tied closely with her own murky origins.
The story is populated with the usual mob of villainous swordsmen and heroic types who do battle with them. Yuen Hua has never been one of my favorite SB stars owing much to his inferior martial arts abilities when stacked next to the likes of Ti Lung or Chen Kuan-tai, but he’s acceptable in one of his more lively swordplay roles. Having SB’s top heavies Tin Fung and Guk Fung helps. But the main selling point here is the presence of Cheng Pei-pei armed with a bullwhip, a dagger, and a steely gaze. She puts all three to terrific use.
In Chinese kung fu the whip is considered a soft weapon, like a rope dart or three-section staff. These are considered some of the most difficult weapons to handle because of their unwieldy nature and usually require greater experience by a real practitioner. Perhaps this is one reason why movies rarely feature a whip apart from an Indiana Jones film. Michelle Yeoh’s deliberate use of the weapon in Magnificent Warriors (1987) is a notable exception in Chinese cinema. The Shadow Whip definitely lives up to its name by packing in a lot of great whip action, probably more than you’ll likely see anywhere else. One of the best scenes features Cheng snagging a sword from one opponent with her whip and flinging it into another opponent’s gut. If this seems far-fetched, it’s the least of the exaggerated martial arts thrown in.
Everyone in the story seems to have an aversion to using the front door. Instead of doing so, they leap over courtyard walls or onto rooftops to infiltrate windows. All well and good, except when an open doorway is a meter to their right. And if you think this is funny, wait till you see Yueh Hua clumsily dragged off of his horse by a quite visible wire. Sad, but true – much of the wirework from this era is poorly executed by modern standards, but The Shadow Whip features less-forgivable examples. Without the set up and art direction of King Hu or the bold styling of Chang Cheh, Lo Wei’s efforts fall short. Possibly the worst additions to the martial arts action are the ‘Serial Trio,’ their ridiculous serial bombs, and Yueh Hua’s plastic anti-serial bomb shield. What the person or persons responsible were thinking is an unfathomable mystery.
The production and scale is fairly impressive for what amounts to a simple story. The snow-covered outdoor setting with Pei-pei’s fetching winter apparel, typically elaborate SB sets, and large-scale battles give the film a classy look that Lo Wei’s self-produced efforts completely lack. Simon Chui’s action choreography, clumsy wirework notwithstanding, is comparable to that of Tong Gaai.
The Shadow Whip contains a few other annoyances. The effort put into expressive panning camerawork is laudable, but the lack of SteadiCam equipment results in some unintentionally shaky photography. The undercranking, which is meant to speed up the action is too apparent on more than one occasion. The film is also really short at just 78 minutes, although this could be considered a bonus as another twelve minutes could have easily been filled up with more Lo Wei fantasy nonsense. Going from technical gripes to storyline ones, this pairing of Yueh Hua and Cheng Pei-pei is not as satisfying as the first half of Come Drink with Me. Yueh’s character is bland and Pei-pei, for all of her wonderful effort and whip-lashing action seems to be more restrained or sidelined than in previous action roles. Then again, she still proves to be a match for most of her male peers when it comes to charisma and the ability to look like a competent screen fighter.
Although imperfect and somewhat dated, The Shadow Whip still has enough going for it to be a memorable adventure film with the one, true Queen of martial arts cinema, Cheng Pei-pei convincingly dishing out more ass-whipping excitement than any Charlie’s Angel or Canto-pop starlet.

PW: malamute

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