Dragon Swamp

If you are a Cheng Pei Pei fan as I am, this should be right down your alley. Not only does she play the main character with loads of screen time and lots of action scenes, but we also get two of her! She is terrific here playing the two different characters – one a young coltish warrior and the other a much worldlier mature female – and giving them absolutely distinct personalities. Cheng Pei Pei has never looked better either – her smile is radiating, her killer stare is chilling and she is fabulously chic in her various choices of headgear. I suppose she always had her classic film “Come Drink with Me” looking over her shoulder and here there are a couple clear references to it – her broad rimmed hat, her male co-star and an action set piece that takes place in an inn that has strong echoes of the one in her film with King Hu.
Directed by Lo Wei – who made a number of films with this actress in the late 1960’s/early 1970’s – this 1969 sword fighting adventure is somewhat lightweight and poorly scripted but quite fun with a fast moving array of action scenes along with elements of fantasy, romance, revenge and motherhood. At best the action scenes are only average – Cheng Pei Pei was always more about looking good with a sword in her hand and an intense stare that could wither flowers - but there are a lot of them and they make use of various implements of death and by the end the body count is fairly high. Only the ending fails to generate much interest as it disappoints with a whimper when the viewer might rightly have expected a grand finale of wholesale destruction with Pei Pei in the middle of it.
In a pre-credit prelude to the film, after three years Master Fan (Lo Wei) from the Lingshan monastery has tracked down the robber of the Dragon Jade sword along with his accomplice. The White Faced General (Huang Chung Hsin) had convinced Fan Ying (Cheng Pei Pei) to betray her order to help him steal it and in those three years they had two children – a boy and a girl. Master Fan retrieves the sword, but the White Faced General and the young boy escape. Not so lucky is Fan Ying who is exiled to the Dragon Swamp for twenty years – a place of which little is known except that it is ruled by a cruel master and no one ever returns. The monastery takes in the little girl to bring up. Jump ahead twenty years.
The girl (Qing-erh also played by Cheng Pei Pei) is now all grown up and has been trained in all aspects of the martial arts but still retains her cheerful girlish outlook on life though she has no idea who her mother and father are. Once again the sword is stolen – it is not all that well protected considering that it has evil powers and should be kept away from people with evil intentions – and the monks are sent out to find it. Qing-erh also goes looking, as she feels responsible for its theft and soon wanders right into the house of the man who stole it – Yu Jiang (Lo Lieh). There are enough such co-incidences in this movie to make you wonder if China is much bigger than a breadbox! She takes on Yu plus his entire entourage and is giving them a pretty good whacking when he brings out the Jade Sword and turns the balance of the fight. Into this fray jumps a man who calls himself the Roaming Knight (Yueh Hua) because he has forgotten his name and he rescues the wounded Qing-erh and takes her away.
The reason he has been roaming quite so much is that for twenty years he has been looking for – yup – none other than Fan Ying who he has loved all this time. I guess nobody mentioned to him that she had been banished to the Dragon Swamp, which would have made his search a whole lot easier and shorter. Strangely enough though that is exactly where this duo decides to head – not to look for Fan Ying but to attempt to get the help of the Swamp Master to recover the sword. They locate the Swamp – though they had no idea where it was – and take the dangerous journey inside – where they see giant lizards running about – I mean prehistorically giant lizards – who have nothing to do with the plot of this film but Lo Wei must have thought it would be fun to throw them in anyway.
After crossing quicksand they meet up with the Swamp Master (Kang Hua) who agrees to help them – not such a bad guy after all – and he lives in this wonderfully luminescent decorated cave and is served by a bevy of lovely females who all seem to be quite cheerful to be doing so – where they come from is left unexplained. After the Roaming Knight leaves though the Swamp Master reveals his true identity to Qing-erh – he is not a he – but in fact behind the facemask it is none other than Fan Ying!!! Cool and she looks just as young as she did 20-years ago due to her diet of Dragon Bladder. Qing-erh doesn’t quite figure out though that this is her mother, but the two of them – with facemask firmly back in place – head out to reclaim the sword. Soon mother, father, daughter and son are all reunited and doing their best to kill one another. Family reunions don’t get any better than this!
At one point Qing-erh decides to stay over in an inn and one’s mind immediately clicks to “Come Drink with Me” and that classic scene. This one is very similar though it is clearly missing the King Hu mystique. She goes in to have a meal and slowly is surrounded by a gaggle of bad guys who eye her up and wait to attack. She tries to eat but such swaggarts as Fan Mei Sheng and Han Yingjie (who choreographed Come Drink with Me though I don’t know if he had the same duties in this film) make that difficult and soon she is twirling on tops of tables and taking on a room full of killers – needless to say most of them lay dead by the end. In the film also are Ku Feng as Master Sun and Tsang Choh Lam as the waiter in the inn.

My rating for this film: 7.0