Monday, April 20, 2015


This review contains many spoilers. Still experimenting with my review format. 

This is part of my Cheng Pei-pei review series. You can see my other reviews of her movies here: Come Drink With MeGolden SwallowBrothers Five,The Lady Hermit,The Shadow WhipThe Golden Sword, Whip LashThe Thundering SwordRaw Courage and Dragon Swamp. I hope to do more Cheng Pei-pei reviews but at this point it is contingent on me finding films like the Jade Raksha (which are hard to get). 

Kung Fu Girl (also called None but the Brave) was released in 1973 and directed by Lo Wei (Fists of Fury and The Golden Sword). It stars Cheng Pei-pei (Chen Xiaoying), Ou Wei (Lei Tianbao) and James Tien (Yang Gang). The action choreography was by Han Ying-Chieh. 

This movie has a lot in common with Fists of Fury, starring Bruce Lee. It is set against a similar backdrop, in this case during the reign of General Yuan Shikai who proclaimed himself Emperor and made concessions to the Japanese that angered the people of China. Cheng Pei-pei plays Chen Xiaoying a young revolutionary who is a student of Master Ma (simply called Auntie for the rest of the film). Auntie and Xiaoying meet another revolutionary named Yang Gang who has a plan to help free an important leader in the movement, Mr. Cao. He comes to auntie because the man who is in charge of security in Beijing (and would know Mr. Cao's whereabouts), Lei Tianbao, was raised by her. Auntie also raised his little sister, Lei Yuying. 

The basic plan is simple, Yang Gang hopes to recruit Yuying to get people close enough to her brother that they can learn where Mr. Cao might be held. There is just one problem, Auntie informs him Yuying died several years ago of plague. However she was unable to get this news to Lei Tianbao because he never wrote to her. But many years have passed since Tianbao saw his sister, so Xiaoying volunteers to masquerade as Yuying and go on the mission. 

The rest of the movie is a blend of martial arts and intrigue as Auntie and Xiaoying infiltrate Tianbao's household on the lie that she is his sister Yuying. Xiaoying must navigate a maze of foes, including Tainbao's superior and Mr. Sano, the the Japanese Consul (who forms an a romantic interest in her). 

The drama is engaging throughout, with the relationship between Tianbao and Xiaoying really forming the heart of the film. It is unclear just how much of Xiaoying's story Tianbao buys. It is also unclear just how evil he initially. Any doubts about his character are dispelled in a moving scene where his men capture auntie trying to break into a prison and free Mr. Cao. Auntie raised him like a mother and he brutally guns her down when she refuses to reveal her movement's secrets. 
Cheng Pei-pei as Xaioying/Yuying

By this point his suspicions of Xiaoying are obvious when he takes her for a morning walk only to show her a row of revolutionaries about to be executed. She admirably feigns disinterest but when he points her to the strung up corpse of Auntie, it is impossible for her to contain her feelings. In an emotional confrontation back at his residence, Tianbao reveals that he is aware of her plans and that she isn't his real sister. However he says he will go along with the deception if she gives him information on the revolutionaries and agrees to marry the Japanese Consul (which will help him advance three ranks). 

This is where the movie pivots into its climax, with Xiaoying first facing Tianbao, then going to the Japanese embassy on a hunch that Mr. Cao is being kept there. At the embassy she finds Mr. Cao after facing two Japanese Karate masters and Mr. Sano himself. While she manages to help Mr. Cao escape over the wall, she is nabbed by the Consul at the last minute and the building quickly surrounded by the forces of Lei Tianbao' superior officer. Xiaoying accepts her fate and is gunned down. 

The similarities to Fists of Fury are striking, from the character's surname (both Bruce Lee and Cheng Pei-pei are named Chen in these films) to the ending. In Kung Fu Girls, rather than have the star leaping kick into a hail of gunfire, Lo Wei opted to have her stoically accept her fate and take the lethal shots with no resistance. 

Xiaoying (left), Lei Tianbao (Right)
Still these movies are different enough that they are complimentary rather than redundant. I think there is no doubt, Fists of Fury is the classic here. I wouldn't suggest this exceeds it in any way, but it is still an enjoyable film and it has an equally magnetic star. The chief difference is Bruce Lee was made for hand-to-hand Kung Fu scenes and Cheng Pei-Pei has always shined with a sword or other weapon. Bruce Lee was also someone who trained in traditional Kung Fu and had a distinct fighting philosophy that emphasized real fighting. His movies were stylized and theatrical but still reflected this (if you ever have a chance to see sparring footage of Bruce Lee he did employ a more grounded, less flashy approach in his actual training). Kung Fu Girl on the other hand places greater weight on the theatrical Kung Fu. We get more elaborate kicks for example and even some gravity defying leaps (almost more wuxia than kung fu). So these are very different films in that respect.  

That said, Cheng Pei-pei brings her athletics to the table and that really works for me. She also brings her usual intensity. It is rare to see her in this sort of role and I think she is well suited to it. They also give her plenty of opportunities to shine with makeshift weapons as well (and in one case we even see her fire a gun, which I don't think I've ever seen with one of her roles). 

Kung Fu Girl is not short on fight scenes either. There is plenty of action at every step. I didn't bother to count, but it felt like I didn't go hungry for martial arts for more than ten minutes at a time. And the choreography is all fast paced and punchy, which held my interest. 

The action choreography is descent in my view. There are times when it feels a bit wobbly where a couple of moments could have stood to be edited out (these are mostly early in the film). I noticed the choreography and performances get a lot tighter as the movie progresses. 

Again though, because it is so reminiscent of Fists of Fury, I found myself mentally making comparisons between the two, which may have been unfair.
Xiaoying fires a kill shot at Lei Tianbao

Cheng Pei-pei's chief attribute, in addition to her amazing swordplay skills (which we don't see in this movie) is her charisma. I certainly wouldn't say her Kung Fu here is equal to Bruce Lee's in Fists of Fury, but her charisma is and that is really important. She has excellent range (something I am continually impressed by) and lights up any scene (whether it be action-based or dramatic). You are instantly rooting for her from the moment the movie starts. 

I would recommend this movie, particularly to anyone who likes Fists of Fury. It wouldn't be my strongest Cheng Pei-pei suggestion, but it is still good quality and worth viewing if you enjoy her movies. 

In terms of gaming there may be content here for a more modern RPG. Certainly anything set in the early Chinese Republic would benefit from a viewing. But nothing really leapt out at as being significantly inspirational for a campaign. 

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