The time has come, the walrus said, to speak of Pearl Chang Ling. Apologies to Lewis Carroll, but one suspects the master of loopy logic would feel right at home amidst the dreamy delirium of any film starring kung fu’s strangest heroine. Writer, director and star, Chang Ling played her own Alice in a wonderland of stylised fantasy, surreal sets and strange characters. That she was a successful female filmmaker in an industry dominated by men is impressive enough. That movies like Wolf Devil Woman (1982) and Matching Escort (1983) feature kung fu apes, satanic rituals, magical flying boots, exploding intestines, talking wolves, fire-breathing monks, masked heroines and a showdown in an active volcano, makes her downright lovable.
Produced by Chang Ling, but written and directed by Cheng Ming Hwa, My Blade My Life is something of an all-star affair, featuring guest turns from perennial bad guy Lo Lieh, Shaw Bros. superstar Yueh Hua, and Bruce Lee’s favourite leading lady, Nora Miao. It’s a treat for fans of old school, chopsocky weirdness. The disorientating opening features Lo Lieh getting sliced ’n’ diced, followed by several cackling, kung fu masters in rapid-fire montage, as Lone Traveller Lu (Pearl Chang Ling) hits the vengeance trail. The stranger’s motives remain a mystery (This is also one of those movies where no-one realises she’s a girl), but her prime target is elusive swordsman Peerless Swallow. Kindly wanderer Yen Wu Shung (Ling Yun) befriends the icy youth after they tangle with cape-swishing supervillain Yin Yu Yang (Yueh Hua). Hereafter the plot splinters into a feudal melodrama with Yen revealing his terminal illness to fiancée Phoenix (Nora Miao), while rival swordsmen duel for her hand, and a whodunit with mystery murders and impostors posing as Peerless Swallow. Disparate storylines eventually collide, as Lu tells Phoenix her tragic story and faces off against the real Peerless Swallow.
Unlike bare-fisted kung fu flicks, the wu xia (“swordplay”) genre overflows with plot, subplots, complex agendas and poetic asides. My Blade My Life’s haphazard editing, wandering story, and celebrity cameos betray its origin as the television series that made Chang Ling a star. Condensed into feature length, it’s occasionally bewildering but retains a pleasing streak of wu xia melancholy (“Is this god’s will or is this fate?” ponders Yen Wu Shung). Vengeance Video’s DVD is culled from a VHS master and doesn’t do justice to the often beautiful sets and colourful costumes. A Bond villain lair with a yin-yang motif and Phoenix’s fairytale palace are standouts. One of Chang Ling’s bloodiest movies, gore fans should relish limb lopping, a chin sliced off (!), and chopsticks thrown through a face. Chang Ling is a compelling, tragic heroine. Her scenes with Nora Miao are well played by the two contrasting actresses. Though never as radical as Ching Siu Tung’s, conceptually similar, masterpiece Duel to the Death (1981), the conclusion – which tries to have it both ways with blood-splattered tragedy and a renouncement of violence – is surprisingly affecting.