This is part of my Cheng Pei-pei review series. You can see my other reviews of her movies here: Come Drink With Me, Golden Swallow, Brothers Five,The Lady Hermit,The Shadow Whip, The Golden Sword, The Thundering Sword, Raw Courage and Dragon Swamp.
Whiplash is more of a straight-forward Kung Fu movie rather than the wuxia films one often associates Cheng Pei-pei with. It also hasn't been particularly well preserved and is visibly a product of the year it was made (whereas Cheng Pei-Pei's period pieces tend to have more of a timeless quality). I will come right out and say unless you are an enormous Cheng Pei-pei or martial arts movie fan, this may be tough viewing. If you are either of these, then there is plenty to enjoy. Whiplash does some striking things and as a fan of the genre I found most of these things compelling. But it did have some flaws too.
|Cheng Pei-pei as Whiplash|
The most notable thing about Whiplash, for me, was the fight choreography and the tone itself. This isn't perfect fight choreography, it is messy at times and even seems to lose its sense of direction, but Cheng Pei-pei does an outstanding job and because it features a lot of open-handed kung fu, her background as a dancer comes to the surface in a way that one doesn't usually witness (for example as a former Taekwondo practitioner myself, which is kick based, I admired the height and flexibility of her kicks). But above all, the thing that stood out for me was the ferocity of the fight scenes.
This is not elegant and beautiful looking kung fu, where you know you are watching a performance. This is kung fu where you worry the actors may be getting hurt. It looks painful. So that told me they either did something really well or really wrong in the production.
The movie is also typical of the genre in many ways, going abruptly from serious and intense moments to light hearted humor or even song and dance. The humor at times reaches Jackie Chan level Kung Fu antics at times, which feels unusual given the overall gravity of the film.
Cheng Pei-pei, perhaps because of the brutality of the action, is more fierce than usual (which is saying a lot). Her character is nick-named Whiplash by her father because of her temper (though she also uses a whip so that likely has something to do with it). This is a woman who wears a chain of teeth (we assume taken from her foes) wears tiger hide, barks commands and eats tiger meat. Her only soft spot seems to be for her father, who she attempts to find and rescue after he fails to return from a venture with government officials to show them hidden treasure in a cave.
|Whiplash warns the Bandits her tavern is closed|
The storyline feels a bit like a twisted martial arts variation on Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, as the heart of it is her relationship with nine (by my count) bandits who she rounds up, ties up and takes with her to find her father after she sees their leader with her father's tobacco pouch and knife. Convinced they either murdered her father or know the whereabouts of his body, she gives them tiger bone wine and interrogates them, managing to learn that they saw his body at the bottom of a ravine (but maintain he was still alive).
During their journey to the ravine, Whiplash bonds with some of the bandits, who are all known by their rank in the group. Number four, who initially puts up the biggest fight, becomes her firm ally after she saves him from a snake. Number seven also becomes friendly after she shows him moments of kindness. Still this is an alliance drought with danger. Number two and the boss, Big Garlic, prove more difficult to tame and this leads to one of the more uncomfortable scenes in the movie, where number two attempts to rape whiplash after she frees them from their ropes, but is stopped by number four. It is physically hard to watch, made worse because of the grittiness of the fight choreography and the unevenness of the movie's tone.
|Whiplash's father leads men to the treasure|
Despite this really intense moment, the divided bandits manage to unite and agree to continue with Whiplash after they learn that her father knew the location of an ancient imperial treasury hidden in the nearby caverns.
The finale of the film is bone breaking. They eventually find her father, killed by the men he was leading to the treasure, then find the treasure itself only to be held at gun point by her father's killers. Things are made more complicated when a duo of tough guys known as the Bear Brothers also show up to steal the treasure for themselves. This leads to a complicated alliance where most of the bandits join forces with the killers and force Whiplash to show them where the rest of the treasure is located (which she apparently knows the location of ). However number four, seven and one or two others sneak away and try to help Whiplash. She tries to stop them by causing a cave-in by wedging a bullet in the wall and hitting it with a rock. The cavern collapses, killing many of the killers but also causes a free-for all fight.
Like the earlier fight scenes, this one is quite intense. It is the kid of Kung Fu scene where blows leave a lasting impact and are not shaken off. Early in the battle Whiplash has her ankle twisted by a foe and is nearly crippled by it. In the end everyone seems to be killed except for Whiplash and her father's murderer who she manages to subdue (oddly enough with the help of number two) and lead away in chains to local officials.
I am not sure I would recommend this to most people, because I think unless you are a big fan of the genre, it may be feel quite dated. I would recommend it to my friends who are fans and might get something out of it. I did enjoy it, I just recognize this is not going to be everyone's cup of tea.
In terms of gaming I found it helpful viewing. While I've done adventures involving escorting prisoners from point A to point B, this is different because Whiplash needs the Bandits to find her father and they are dangerous men. In my wuxia campaign it might be a scenario involving transporting one of the great evil masters to a sect headquarters to help locate a hidden manual, in a fantasy campaign the bandits could be replaced with a group of appropriate monsters (anything from orcs to demons depending on the party's power level).