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  Silver Fox, The Wily by nature
Year: 1968
Director: Hsu Cheng-hung
Stars: Lily Ho Li, Yu Hui, Chang Yi, Huang Tsung-shun, Tien Feng, Helen Ma Hoi-Lun, Chiu Sam-Yin, Chiu Hung, Goo Man Chung, Fan Mei-Sheng, Yuen Woo Ping
Genre: Musical, Action, Martial Arts, AdventureBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Dastardly Sima Chau (Huang Tsung-shun) frames his kung fu brother, Hsia Wu (Tien Feng) for the theft of a secret kung fu manual. Their foster father scars Wu with four flying darts that dangle, rather comically, from his swollen face while he protests his innocence. Wu’s pregnant wife Pai Yu (Chiu Sam-Yin) reveals the truth, so Chau slaughters everybody and kidnaps her as his bride, while Wu absconds with his firstborn daughter. Years later, lovely Ching Er (Lily Ho Li) rescues a portly beggar from an angry mob and wins the admiration of righteous swordsman Hsu Tai Tung (Chang Yi), son of a prominent Chinese prince.

What nobody suspects is that Ching Er is also the notorious, pink-clad bandit Silver Fox, upholding her father’s grudge against the Jun Wai Security Bureau run by the prospering Sima Chau. Silver Fox targets a valuable golden seal transported across the country by Hsu and sword-wielding sisters Xiao Lin (Yu Hui) and Xiao Mei (Helen Ma Hoi-Lun), but after her daring robbery spares their lives out of kindness. But the seal is a fake, being part of Chau’s plan to lure Silver Fox into the open. This sets into motion a series of tragic events that reunites Silver Fox with her long-lost mother and sister and finally settles the bloody feud between Hsia Wu and Sima Chau.

Considering actresses in Hollywood still struggle to find decent parts, it’s astonishing to think that Sixties Chinese cinema was so dominated by women that audiences looked upon the macho martial arts movies of director Chang Cheh as a breath of fresh air. The Silver Fox marked one of the last gasps of a dying trend at Shaw Brothers, the studio that made such wu xia classics as Come Drink with Me (1966), Vengeance of a Snow Girl (1968) and Heads for Sale (1969). It was The Lady Hermit (1971) that finally closed the genre after which the old-style flying swordswoman didn’t exactly disappear, but became a supporting player until Tsui Hark and the Hong Kong New Wave arrived on the scene.

Here the formula includes gravity-defying wire-fu, musical numbers and the traditional conceit of a beautiful actress being able to pass herself off as a man. All time honoured stuff, capably orchestrated by Hsu Cheung-hung, who made one of Shaw’s earliest wu xia hits, Temple of the Red Lotus (1964). Female oriented wu xia are usually more classically paced with complex plots compared to their kung fu brethren. Rather like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000), this plays the martial arts scenario for a comedy of manners and a study of social etiquette under duress. At one point almost all the characters are trapped under the same roof, while Ching - if you’ll pardon the pun - outfoxes them all.

The film centres its plot around the contrast between bad families and good families, loyal children and manipulative patriarchs, but dwells excessively on the hand-wringing romance. Hsu-chen fumbles the protracted conclusion, laden with so many tragic deaths it starts to look silly. However, Shaw’s resident sex kitten Lily Ho Li is great as the flighty, flirty heroine, torn between filial duty and her conscience. A collection of veteran character actors offer solid support and lookout for celebrated director/fight choreographer Yuen Woo Ping as one of her sidekicks. Lily gets her man in the end, but the movie remains a minor effort.

Reviewer: Andrew Pragasam

 

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