Golden Swallow (1968)

Posted in Reviews by - August 05, 2023
Golden Swallow (1968)

Excellently staged, evocative and brutal sequel to King Hu’s 1966 smash hit, Come Drink With Me – partially shot in Japan, which adds to its rather obvious leanings towards the chanbara film. The first film was a delicate, historical swashbuckler which sparked a postmodern revival in wuxia cinema not seen since the silent era. Chang Cheh – the ‘yin’ to King Hu’s ‘yang’ – takes over directing duties for this sequel, a calculated response to Hu’s decision to leave Shaw Brothers. Hu’s Taiwan-made indie masterpiece, Dragon Gate Inn, may have narrowly beaten this film at the box office, but Chang’s sequel is an altogether different beast compared to Come Drink with Me, and in many ways, it actually betters it. Here we find Hong Kong’s answer to Peckinpah flexing his yanggang muscles in an early attempt to instil overtly masculine themes into his films. He reclaims the traditionally female-led format – which made a star out of the then 19-year-old Cheng Pei-pei as the crossdressing Ming dynasty sword-master ‘Golden Swallow’ – for a new, male lead, Jimmy Wang Yu (One-Armed Swordsman), playing the indestructible martial artist and killer of bandits, Silver Roc. It’s another iconic role for Wang Yu, and as a result, Pei-pei is completely sidelined in the story, despite what the title might suggest. She barely even gets to fight; instead, she is used as a device in a ménage à trois with Lo Lieh, playing a rival swordsman who, like Silver Roc, is also in love with Golden Swallow. The two vow to duke it out in a bid to win her love. The film possesses a dramatic heft, with a soaring soundtrack and impassioned performances elevating the more melodramatic scenes, which Chang Cheh actually – surprisingly – carries off earnestly and with a genuine sense of gravitas. The editing is fantastic, neatly jostling from calm to chaos. Cheh’s more exploitative side comes to the fore in his customary use of blood and guts – there’s a sequence involving a torture chamber; a crime gang is singlehandedly massacred; and in one harrowing sequence, a child commits suicide by shoving a sword in his belly. The finale enters Throne of Blood levels of violence, as Silver Roc – his white robes stained with blood and daggers protruding from his torso – continues to swipe and slain an entire army singlehandedly, before standing defiantly atop of a sea of dead bodies and boldly claiming himself to be “invincible”. The tragic, lone, vengeful fighter would become a character trait in many of Wang Yu’s later heroic roles, with Silver Roc being one of his best. Cheh even makes space for creative flourishes – something which really marks out his superior earlier work to his patchy, more derivative efforts in the 1970s – with brave use of handheld camera and reverse shots. This is comfortably one of Shaw Brothers’ best action movies.

AKA: The Girl with the Thunderbolt KickMistress of the Thunderbolt; The Shaolin Swallow.

This post was written by
Editor and creator of Kung Fu Movie Guide and the host of the Kung Fu Movie Guide Podcast. I live behind a laptop in London, UK.

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