|(All images courtesy Celestial Pictures.)|
FOR all the acting ability she showed in a variety of parts through the twenty-three pictures she did for Shaw Brothers, Cheng Pei-pei is best known for her wuxia movies, or, rather, one wuxia movie: Come Drink with Me. While opinions vary over King Hu's film (even its status as a classic), most agree her star turn as Golden Swallow is the model for the character of a strong swordswoman that Hong Kong screenwriters were inspired to copy (if not better) in future wuxias at Shaw and other studios. The way the Shaw experience went down, not one wuxia after CDwM could duplicate its success, including Golden Swallow, the sequel directed by Chang Cheh. Even the prescence of Pei-pei in these follow-ups didn't guarantee a good picture, demonstrating how much the arrangement of the young woman under the guidance of director Hu was one of those "blue moon" occurrences.
The Lady Hermit is among those select few Shaw wuxias that came close to the level of quality found in CDwM. While not as moody or "trippy", after energetic fighting scenes and a "love triangle" subplot, TLH is best remembered for Pei-pei working with the woman who'd try to replace her as Shaw's wuxia queen, Shih Szu.
What immediately stands out about TLH is the superb cinematography by Lin Kuo Chiang, Li Yu Tang and Tsao Wei Chi. After King Hu's movies, such attention to the slightest of visual details is typical of director Meng-hua's best films, and TLH is no exception. Every last shot taken seems to have been given some significant thinking through, from the lighting to camera setups. In conjunction with Chang Hsing Lung's marvelous editing, every scene, whether a quiet one or full of swordplay and arterial spray, benefits from the craftsmanship of these talented guys. For the era, this is one of the best looking "old school" wuxias ever.
Funimation's last Shaw DVD release (until we hear otherwise) is consistent with their previous reissues. It has a fine anamorphic picture (stemming from a proper transfer with no "combing" in the playback), and the two soundtrack choices (English and Mandarin audio in their original mono, the latter with optional English subtitles) both sound great. The only "extras" found on the disc are advertising.
Through the May '70 issue of Hong Kong Movie News (thanks to venoms5 over at Cool Ass Cinema for the info), we know Pei-pei left Shaw to get married, and move to the US to retire from moviemaking, after finishing work on Lo Wei's The Shadow Whip. Had TLH been her last film, it would've made her exit from Hong Kong that much sweeter; unfortunately, seven months after TLH's January '71 opening, Shaw let TSW drop, an uninspired piece of work in which Pei-pei's character brandished a whip much like Szu did in TLH. (Hindsight is 20/20, but Shaw would've been better off leaving TSW in the vault or putting it out before TLH.) As the business of cranking out motion pictures at Shaw went during the early 1970s, they were staying the course, right down to thoughtlessly giving their departed star one more raw deal.
(Two years later, Golden Harvest would coax Pei-pei out of retirement, but that is a story best saved for another time.)
Brother Fang says... "Fans of Cheng Pei-pei, Lo Lieh and Shih Szu are already sold on this, and all lovers of Shaw Brothers' wuxia films should follow suit. It's a good, affordable DOMESTIC copy of a hard-to-find import; need I say more?"
Keeping it trivial....
Fang Shih-yu, Shaolin Temple.