Ferocious swordswoman Ho Li Chun (Nora Miao) charges across the screen in an orgy of flying swords, severed limbs and fallen enemies. High atop a towering pagoda, she wows the crowd with her unstoppable sword skills along with a ruthless streak that earns her the nickname: “The Blade that Spares None.” Prince Kuei (Paul Chang Chung), the man behind this martial arts contest, is so impressed he enlists Ho Li Chun as part of an elite task force with which he plans to overthrow the oppressive emperor.
Tang Ching Yun the Dragon Sword (Patrick Tse Yin) and his kung fu brother Knight Chen (James Tin Jun) gatecrash the prince’s party, hoping to uncover the man who massacred their family, whom they suspect is among his hired killers. It turns out Ho Li Chun is looking for the same man, Sun Tien Chun the Devil's Claw (Leung Lung), leader of the Black Cult. He was once her father’s partner but betrayed and killed him shortly after they both murdered Tang’s family. While Tang tries to pursuade Ho Li Chun to lend her superior skills to his just cause, the latter makes a startling discovery: Prince Kuei and the Devil’s Claw, are one and the same!
Born of Eurasian descent, the beautiful Nora Miao remains best known as Bruce Lee’s favourite co-star. The pair knew each growing up in Hong Kong even before Nora made her screen debut in The Big Boss (1971). Thereafter she routinely hopped between romantic dramas opposite her other regular leading man Taiwanese matinee idol Ko Chuen Hsiung and action movies like Fist of Fury (1972) or Way of the Dragon (1972). Usually Nora left the fighting to Bruce, but with The Blade Spares None Golden Harvest tried to launch her as a credible rival to Shaw Brothers’ number one swordswoman Cheng Pei Pei. It didn’t quite take off, partly because the heroic swordswoman craze entered a brief lull with the rise of mucho macho stars like Bruce and co. Indeed in her post-Golden Harvest years, Nora found herself at Shaw Brothers reduced to third-tier status amidst a roster of superstars in Clans of Intrigue (1977) and sharing a steamy lesbian love scene with Betty Pei Ti. After retiring from the movie scene, she immigrated to Canada and hosted a string of TV and radio shows for the local Chinese community. More recently she has made a major big screen comeback in the Hong Kong dramas Run Papa Run (2008) and Merry-Go-Round (2010).
Though cast against type, Nora Miao shines as the fiery, ruthless Ho Li Chun and projects exactly the right level of intensity whilst twirling her twin swords with aplomb in the energetic action scenes choreographed by a young Sammo Hung. Co-written by Fist of Fury director Lo Wei and staggeringly prolific scribe Ni Kuang, The Blade Spares None has a tangled plot that is quite hard to follow with frequent lulls in the action whenever characters outline their backstories or wax philosophical. It does boast two rather novel ideas, however. The first being Ho Li Chun is more mercenary than your average heroic swordswoman, plotting to keep the villain’s loot once she kills him, though she does learn there is more to life than money by the end. Also interesting is the idea to cast two actors as the same villain. Perhaps because frail seeming actor Leung Lung looks like he would croak if you sneezed on him. The actor who essentially plays his fake rubber mask is Paul Chang Chung, previously the dashing hero in Shaw Brothers’ James Bond imitation, The Golden Buddha (1966).
The film boasts terrific sets and photography, highlighted in a sequence where sword brothers Tang and Chen battle a squad of ninja-like warriors, culminating in a tense stand-off between Tang and Ho Li Chun, and a marvellous scene where they ambush Prince Kuei/Sun Tien’s men in the misty-shrouded woods. Eventually the film runs out of plot and crams most of its action into the frenetic finale wherein our flying heroes inevitably slice and dice the lone supervillain to gory bits. Star-spotters should keep an eye out for bit-players Sammo Hung, Bruce Leung Siu-Lung, Lam Ching Ying and Jackie Chan. Music stolen from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)!