Martial arts movie legend Cheng Pei-Pei plays a titular 'lady hermit' who lives out in the sticks where she's bound and determined to perfect her latest and greatest move, unaware that a would be student named Cui Ping (Shih Szu) is roaming the area trying to find her in hopes of learning some of her secrets. Cui Ping holes up in a small village just around the time that a string of grisly murders is being committed, finding solace in the home of local political big-wig Wang Cheng En (Fang Mien). While staying in the town, she spreads her social wings a little bit and soon becomes close friends with Wangs' daughter, Leng Yu Shuang (Cheng Pei-Pei), as then later falls quickly in love with a man named Chang Chun (Lo Lieh), a fairly noble swordsman.
As Cui Ping starts snooping around trying to figure out what the deal is with the seemingly random murders taking place, she starts to piece together the puzzle and is soon pointing her finger in the direction of Black Knight (Wang Hsia), a nefariously named local bad guy and a known enemy of the mysterious Lady Hermit she's trying to locate. Not surprisingly, we soon learn that Leng Yu Shuang is in fact the Hermit and she teams up with Cui and Chang Chun to travel outside the confines of the town and stop Black Knight and this thugs (one of whom is Sammo Hung) from killing more innocent people (using his fancy set of evil claws, no less!) - but will matters of the heart ruin our heroic trio's chances?
Made in 1971 by director Ho Meng Hua, Lady Hermit is a pretty enjoyable mix of soap opera dramatics/romance and fairly nasty carnage. While the love triangle subplot definitely gets in the way of the film's efficiency and tends to slow it down in spots, the picture more than makes up for it with a pretty fantastic ending featuring loads of arterial spray and some impressive fight choreography. While there are some pacing issues because of the romance angle being played up a bit too often in the middle part of the film, this is compensated for by some great performances and impressive battles.
Cheng Pei-Pei (in her last film for Shaw Brothers), probably best known to western audiences for her part in Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, has a pretty intense screen presence and Ho Meng Hua exploits that for all that it's worth. While the romance angle does take away from her 'toughness' to a certain extent, when it comes time to bring it, she's got all the moves you could want and then some. Shih Szu's Cue Pings character, while far too prone to melodrama and weepy eyed jealousy, is pretty handy with a whip and as such has some interesting visual appeal. Her performance isn't anything to write home about but there's something to be said for a touch chick with a whip, right? Both actresses are also quite pretty, so there's that too. Lo Lieh is fine as the good swordsman though this role is hardly a stretch for him, while Wang Hsia makes the most of his antagonist part and really takes things as close to 'over the top' as he can without quite going overboard.
While the film really never capitalizes on its gender reversal gimmick to much note, once you look past the sappier side of the romantic subplot Lady Hermit is pretty great stuff. Good fight choreography, those instantly recognizable Shaw sets so full of color and a fun cast make this gory wuxia film one that Shaw fans will definitely want to check out.
Lady Hermit arrives on DVD in a progressive scan anamorphic 1.78.1 widescreen transfer and this is another of Funimation's typically decent transfers - in fact, held side by side against the first film, it looks pretty much identical in terms of quality. A little bit of print damage shows up here and there but otherwise the source material used for this disc has been very nicely restored. Colors are bright and bold and garish, just as they should be, and they really bring out the splendor of the various costumes and studio sets used throughout the film. What looks to be some mild edge enhancement pops up here and there, but aliasing and compression artifacts are never much of a problem. Some DNR looks to have been applied sporadically but it's minor and if you're not specifically looking for it, you probably won't notice it.
The Mandarin language Dolby Digital mono mix is well balanced and easy to follow since the optional English subtitles are easy to read and free of any typographical errors, though there are spots where the sound effects are a bit higher in the mix then they probably needed to be. The score sounds good, never overpowering the performers, while the sound effects are presented at the proper volume as well. It's not a track that will amaze you, but it definitely sounds as good as it needs to. An optional English language Dolby Digital Mono dub is also provided.
Extras are disappointingly light, limited to a few trailers for unrelated Funimation releases and a forced promo spot for their Shaw Brothers line that plays before you can get to the main menu screen (which also offers chapter selection).
Lady Hermit, like all the Funimation Shaw Brothers catalogue releases so far, doesn't get much love in the extra features department but at least it looks and sounds pretty decent on this DVD. The movie itself? It's a blast, gleefully violent with some great, splattery effects work and some killer fight scenes. Cheng Pei-Pei's performance is excellent and while this might not be the most serious swordplay film ever made, it's certainly a wildly entertaining one and comes recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.