When bandits burn his home town and kill his wife, righteous swordsman Liu Wen-Lung (Fang Mian) saves his son Yu Long (On Wai-Lin) before taking revenge. Using his fabled killer darts he lops an arm off bandit chief Chou Chao the Evil One (Ma Ying) and slaughters his gang. On the road with his son, top student Hu Chi-Feng (Cheung Yuk-Kam) and portly sidekick Ah Fu (Pang Pang, who played Pigsy in The Monkey Goes West (1964)), Wen-Lung finds shelter with a kindly farmer. Unfortunately, horny jerk Chi-Feng can’t resist raping the farmer’s wife then offs them both with the killer darts so there will be no witnesses. Nevertheless, an enraged Wen-Lung uncovers the crime though wily Chi-Feng flees the scene. A guilt-ridden Wen-Lung adopts the farmer’s daughter Jin Yu-Sien (Wong Siu-Man), without realising her dying mother told the little girl to take revenge on “the man with the killer darts.”
Years later Yu-Sien grows into a beautiful swordswoman (Chin Ping) alongside the handsome Yu Long (genre stalwart Yueh Hua), studying the near-unstoppable Ching Hung Sword Style that has only one weakness. Although Yu-Sien harbours feelings for her foster brother it seems Lin Heung-Kam (Shen Yi), the mayor’s flirty daughter, has her heart set on marrying him. When a buck-toothed monk demands protection money from the frightened townsfolk (who said all Buddhists were pacifists?), Yu Long’s heroic intervention gets him injured when he discovers - surprise! - Chi-Feng is the mastermind behind this formidable new bandit gang. Shortly thereafter, Chi-Feng tricks Yu-Sien into believing her beloved mentor Liu Wen-Lung was responsible for her parents’ deaths. Swearing vengeance, Yu-Sien withdraws to perfect her kung fu at a fake monastery set up by the dastardly Chi-Feng where she inadvertently reveals the secret weakness of the Ching Hung Sword Style.
At the height of the heroic swordswoman craze in Hong Kong cinema almost every starlet at Shaw Brothers got to brandish a blade in a swashbuckling romp or two. In a career spanning just seven years, Chin Ping might have been beloved for her musical melodramas Hong Kong Nocturne (1966) and The Price of Love (1970) as well as the rollicking comedy The Millionaire Chase (1968) but also displayed a fiery charisma in wu xia films including the studio’s first major genre effort Temple of the Red Lotus (1964) and fan favourites like The Magnificent Trio (1966) and The Bells of Death (1968). Chin’s impassioned performance elevates the routine plot of this rollicking fun romp while prolific Shaw stalwart Ho Meng-hua supplies top tier action. Fans of improbable martial arts moves can savour the inclusion of flying swordplay, telekinesis and internal power as the deceptively dainty Chin plays a heroine so tough she chops trees in half with her bare hands!
Often when critics liken martial arts movies to westerns the comparison is inaccurate given the plots are far more esoteric. However, Killer Darts spins a tale of guilt, revenge and tragedy wrought by misunderstanding that could have easily sprung from a Hollywood horse opera. As if to underline the point the film steals much of its soundtrack from Elmer Bernstein’s score for The Magnificent Seven (1960)! While Chin Ping ably conveys her inner torment of conflicting filial loyalties from murdered mother to adopted father, further complicated by romance, the script does not adequately develop these themes. Nevertheless the film springs a neat conceit in having the villain shelter and train the heroine to take revenge on the wrong man and includes a memorable middle third vaguely foreshadowing the escape from the Death Star sequence in Star Wars (1977), as Yu-Sien helps the heroes elude several death-traps even though she still believes Liu Wen-Lung killed her parents. There is also an unintentionally amusing scene that says a lot about Chinese sexual politics in the Sixties where Lin Heung-Kam strips off to seduce Yu Long who quickly runs away. It is nice touch that expert archer Lin contributes to the action rather than simply serve as the third point in a love triangle. The third act brings back burly, bearded Chou Chao now sporting a mechanical multi-weapon arm and a cadre of eccentrically attired martial arts experts and the action moves like a bullet leaving little time to ponder how all this could have been so easily avoided had Liu Wen-Lung simply told the young Jin Yu-Sien that Chi-Feng killed her parents.