The 1969 film is a prime example of the Shaw Brothers studios at its most entertaining. The swordplay martial arts epic is an extravagant feast for genre fans, loaded with larger-than-life characters, gorgeous settings, and plenty of eye-popping fight sequences, including one that finds the duelists clashing swords while hip-deep in a river. The plot is familiar, yet it's taken to such Shakespearean heights that we never mind the formula.
Li Zhishan (Tang Ching) is a rich man, but wealth cannot keep the loyalties of his wife (Kao Pao-Shu), who has been visiting the bed of a rival. She helps plot against him, and the Vicious Long Brothers invade his home and steal the Golden Dragon Blade - a sword that makes its wielder unbeatable. Zhishan, crippled in the attack, and his young daughter are whisked away by a devoted servant (Paang Paang), and the trio soon find shelter in the home of an herbalist (Ku Wen-Chung).
Years pass, the daughter grows up to be a lovely young woman and a powerful fighter (played by Chin Ping), and the Long Brothers use the Golden Dragon Blade to gain power in the region. Zhishan's family of sorts has managed to stay well hidden, but a trip into the city - the daughter's first - sets off an old power struggle as Zhishan's wife discovers her daughter is quite alive.
"Golden Blade" gives us a little of everything: suspense, melodrama, even a little romance. The performances are solid all around, giving some much-welcome depth to what could have been flat, uninspired characters. (Tang Ching's simmering rage and Kao Pao-Shu's devilish conniving make for the best character moments.) Director Ho Ming-Hua ("The Mighty Peking Man") lets the story pause now and then to soak in the visuals; the location shooting reveals a lavish countryside, which cinematographer Lin Kuo-Hsiang captures at its most beautiful. The widescreen imagery and a grand musical score (from Wang Fook-Ling) leave the movie with the polish of a full-on Hollywood production of the era.
Surrounding all of this is just what every martial arts fan wants. The fight scenes are spectacular, dazzlingly choreographed and expertly paced. A few of the hide-the-seams editing hiccups cause a few unintentional grins (all those grand leaps twenty feet in the air), but that's all part of the fun. "Golden Blade" is pure spectacle in all the right ways, a welcome treat for lifelong fans and genre newcomers alike.
Image continues to roll out Celestial Pictures' prints of Shaw Brothers classics with this release of "Vengeance Is a Golden Blade." The film appears unedited, although a Celestial logo opens and closes the picture.
Video & Audio
The anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1) transfer is cleaner and crisper than pretty much anything you'd expect from the genre. But maybe it's too clean: the film relies entirely on a high depth of field that leaves everything, from foreground to back, in sharp focus. When the action pans, then, there's a slightly too-crisp "video" look. As this is apparently a port of Celestial's region 3 release, this could either be an issue with the PAL transfer or a problem with the source material itself. Either way, it's rarely distracting - unlike the bit of ghosting which becomes more frequent toward the final twenty minutes or so, especially as the action intensifies.
Image presents the original Mandarin soundtrack in both Dolby 5.1 and 2.0. The stereo track is slightly tinny but quite passable for purists; the surround remix is surprisingly highly enjoyable, rich and detailed without relying much at all on the rear speakers. Optional English subtitles are provided.
None for the movie itself, although Image does include a rather large collection of original trailers for Shaw Brothers and other Asian releases.
"Vengeance Is a Golden Blade" is big, brassy swordplay done right. Highly Recommended to those looking for the right introduction to the Shaw Brothers, or for those looking for one more terrific genre fix.