Sunday, December 10, 2023


This is part of a series I started when working on Wandering Heroes of Ogre Gate, reviewing wuxia films and discussing their relevance to tabletop RPGs. This entry is an installment in my Cheng Pei-pei reviews series as well. So far on this blog I have covered Come Drink with me, Brothers Five, Golden Swallow, Dragon Swamp, The Shadow Whip, Lady Hermit, Thundering Sword, The Golden Sword, Raw Courage, That Fiery Girl, Whiplash, and Kung Fu Girl. Today I write about The Jade Raksha. I am a little rusty on these written reviews so don't mind me if I ramble a bit. 

Note: I am writing these as a fan of the genre. I am not a movie expert or an expert in asian cinema. These are my own observations based on what I have learned by watching wuxia and kung fu movies, and by reading about them through interviews and books. But my knowledge is quite limited and I am an English speaker. So understand that my commentary comes from this perspective.  

This review contains many spoilers.


Cheng Pei-pei and the director Ho Meng Hua are a very good combination. Cheng Pei-pei is an incredible physical performer, and was making films at a time when less of the performance was cloaked with camera work. When I see Cheng Pei-pei in a movie she brings athleticism, grace, footwork, and power to the screen in a way that I think is still unrivaled. The choreography may have been a little less stylized, but this is more interesting to me because it's a period where you can see style developing in these movies that later movies build a foundation on and there is less distraction from the physical movements of the actor. She also has a very grounded style of action that feels real. 

And Cheng Pei-pei excels at playing martial characters with strong personalities. She has star power on the screen that can carry a film, even a not so great film. She can draw you to a film with her personality, which elevates every movie she is in. 

Ho Meng Hua is a magnificent storyteller. His films are not only wonderful to look at, but he puts a lot of focus into telling a story that feels well crafted. He directed a number of movies but some notable ones (for me at least) are Lady Hermit, Vengeful Beauty, Black Magic, Shaolin Abbot, The Flying Guillotine, Monkey Goes West, and Cave of the Silken Web. 

By far, the best Ho Meng Hua film featuring Cheng Pei-pei, in my opinion, is Lady Hermit. The story and the choreography are both stellar. But The Jade Raksha is an interesting film as well. And one that has some very memorable elements. It is also a movie that I appreciated more on repeat viewings. 

The Jade Raksha is a movie about the endless cycle of revenge and violence. This is a longstanding trope in wuxia and other genres, but what matters is how the trope is handled. And Ho Meng Hua handles it exceptionally well here. 

Unfortunately The Jade Raksha has not been easy to find in recent years. I did a review on youtube years ago for a VCD format version. This was the only copy I could find, so I was grateful to have it, but VCD is not high resolution and has a very small aspect ratio on the screen. Recently it went up on a streaming service on Amazon and it was also released in a new Shaw Brothers boxed set. I watched the version on Amazon, which looked like a scan similar to my VCD copy but had a much better aspect ratio. So for the first time, I was able to appreciate the visuals of the film. 


The story begins with a chance meeting of Leng Qiu Han (Cheng Pei-pei) and Xu Ying Hao (Tang Ching) at an inn. She has been killing members of the Yan family because one of them slaughtered her entire household, and he is looking to kill Shi Yong Shan, a man who murdered his father.

Leng Qiu Han visits revenge upon her enemies as the Jade Raksha, a terrifying swordswoman who announces her intentions with a haunting song. Initially Leng Qiu Han regards Xu Ying Hao as an obstacle, someone who is meddling in her affairs and the she challenges him to a fight to the death. There is a lot more to it than this but the beginning ends with them on the road together, and her developing strong affection for him before they each set off on their own. 

This is where the film becomes very interesting. Leng Qiu Han is killing every member of the Yan because she doesn't know which one is responsible for the death of her family. And Xu Ying Hao appears to have a more morally righteous approach to revenge, even cautioning Leng Qiu Han to only kill the guilty and to spare the innocent. 

There is an incredible scene soon after their split, which highlights the core theme of the movie. Xu Ying Hao goes to a village where he has tracked down Shi Yong Shan, and there he confronts him, an aggressive and hostile man who clearly has no exceptional martial skill. At first it seems he is going to let Shi Yong Shan off because he can't even fight, but when the man attacks him as his back is turned he slices him open and this is where the magic of the scene occurs because it maintains two completely separate moods. 

As Xu Ying Hao heroically sheathes his sword and boldly announces "I am Xu Ying Hao. Twenty years ago Shi Yong Shan killed my father. I am here to avenge [him]" the scene around him dissolves into something much more shaky and messy. The man's wife and son run up to him, and the other villagers look shocked. There is a sharp contrast between Xu Ying Hao's posture and the events unfolding around him. It is like he is one movie and the villagers in another. But that discord is not immediately apparent to Xu Ying Hao. 

At this point he discovers he killed the wrong man. A villager tells him the man he killed was Shi Xiong Shan, and that Shi Yong Shan left twenty years ago. Then the son addresses Xu Ying Hao and vows to avenge his father when he grows up. 

Disturbed that he killed an innocent man, and filled with remorse, he wraps a blue sash from his victim around the hilt of sword and swears an oath to never unsheathe it again. It is a very effective beat in the story and gives emotional weight to everything Xu Ying Hao does from that point on. It is also worth mentioning while this is just one notable scene, that the core elements of this scene are mirrored in other aspects of the story. It is the threading of all the revenge tales that really makes the movie work. 

Leng Qiu Han, or Jade Raksha herself is one of Cheng Pei-pei's most interesting characters. She is more flawed and self-centered than a character like Lady Hermit. She has no problem killing countless Yan men, taking their heads and hanging them from a rope with large letters announcing that they were killed by The Jade Raksha. She is also violently possessive of Xu Ying Hao once she develops a love interest in him. 

In fact, her first instinct seems to be to kill. When she first meets Xu Ying Hao, doesn't hesitate to reach for her sword when he confronts her about an incident she has with some other patrons. Later she challenges him to a fight to the death. When another woman gains Xu Ying Hao's affections, she openly attempts to kill her. Over the course of the film, Xu Ying Hao tries to restrain her killer instinct, especially regarding her ruthless quest for revenge against the Yan family, and this is particularly the case when she seeks to kill the final Yan man, which puts the two of them into direct conflict. She is a bit of an anti-hero. 

Jade Raksha doesn't hide behind false humility or morality, she is clear about what she wants, while at the same time capable of deception when needed. She also has a knack for sarcasm, overpraising her friend Xu Ying Hao's righteousness in order to put him in his place. There is also something about the sincerity of the character I like. When she tries to kill Jiang Yin Feng, even though it is clearly an overreaction and wrong, it's her real emotion coming to the surface. She isn't hiding her feelings. 


One of the things that makes this movie so enjoyable is the villain, Master Yan Tian Long, played by Yang Chi-Ching. He is one of those villains who is so evil yet so charming that he is a pleasure to watch. Master Yan is a horrible man, but presents himself as a philanthropist to the public and has learned to use charity as way of securing loyalty and recruiting men to serve him. He feeds the poor, cares for the sick, and is respected by officials. His house even has a plaque that reads "Always Be Kind", but beyond this plaque is a secret door that leads to his dungeon where he tortures, executes and stores goods gained through robbery. The blatant hypocrisy makes for a fun villain. 

Yan Tian Long's scheming is brilliant. He is a true chess player and can put his temper and ego aside in order to attain his goals with soft demonstrations of power. He gets the best doctors for Xu Ying Hao's mother, gives her money so she can survive while Xu Ying Hao is out seeking revenge, and he seems to be feeding everyone in town. 

When he sees that Xu Ying Hao is friends with Jade Raksha, he responds by being reasonable and showing understanding, but then sends men to follow him so they can find her. He knows how to control people and how to use his mind in a fight. 

He is also ruthless and cruel in order to achieve his goals. His dungeon is filled with instruments of torture and execution, including two giant guillotines. 


The Jade Raksha features a classic love triangle as well. For soon after Xu Ying Hao meets Leng Qiu Han, he returns home to his ailing mother, who has been nursed to house by the seemingly benevolent Yan Tian Long. Out of a desire for reciprocity, Xu Ying Hao agrees to be Yan's chief martial arts instructor. 

Working for Master Yan, his men hear a woman singing Jade Raksha's melody and try to detain her. Xu Ying Hao orders them not to, but they disobey her, causing him to help the woman and her blind father escape. This leads to a romance between Xu Ying Hao and the daughter, Jiang Yin Feng. The father, Jiang Man Leung, approves of the relationship but when they are brought to Xu's mother's home, his mother, Mei Juan, recognizes Jiang Man Leung as the man her killed her husband, Shi Yong Shan. 

The movie becomes much more emotional at this point, with a poignant scene between Mei Juan and Shi Yong Shan where he implores her to let the past go, so that their children can be happy. He then explains that he and her husband fought over her affection and that he accidentally killed him in a duel after he had been drinking. He was so guilt-ridden, he leapt off a cliff and his eyes were scratched by thorn bushes, causing him to go blind.

This is a good example of the kind of storytelling the movie does, where it is taking very longstanding themes and tropes, but holding back enough important information to give a large emotional impact for the viewer. And the characters make you feel for them. You share Mei Juan's profound desire to avenge her husband's death but also share her desire to let her son marry and be happy. And you feel for Shi Yong Shan, who was so remorseful he tried to commit suicide. And now all he wants is for his daughter to have a secure future. 

It is also cleverly woven into the cycle of revenge in the movie itself, where the characters are slowly becoming more and more interconnected by these past grudges and the need for vengeance. Every aspect of the story feels like it revolves around this theme and is mirrored elsewhere. For example, Jade Raksha's entire purpose for the whole movie, the wiping out of the Yan family, is a product of Yan Tian Long wiping out her entire family.  

Ultimately Mei Juan decides to keep Shi Yong Shan's secret and this leads to the love triangle between The Jade Raksha and Xu Ying Hao. It is at this point that the aforementioned attempted killings of Xu Ying Hao's love interest by the Jade Raksha occurs. 


The Jade Raksha has a genuinely rewarding finale, with plenty of great fights, more reveals about the 20 year backstory, and a very interesting conclusion. 

Still believing that Jiang Yin Feng is the Jade Raksha, Master Yan's son and his men detain her while she is out by the river. Mei Juan tries to stop them but cannot. This leads to both of them being imprisoned at Master Yan's residence, where they are kept as 'guests' to persuade them to share Jade Raksha's location. 

Xu Ying Hao is forced to go to The Jade Raksha and ask for her help to rescue his mother and fiancé. Reluctantly she agrees on two conditions: the first is he must agree to never see Jiang Yin Feng again. The Jade Raksha's second condition is he must agree to marry her. 

The final showdown is exciting and filled with more interesting developments to the story. Shi Yong Shan's secret is revealed when he is recognized by Master Yan, and master Yan himself, in a moment when he seems to have the upper hand, tells the full truth about why he killed Jade Raksha's entire family. 

He explains that the day that Shi Yong Shan and Xu Ying Hao's father fought that the three of them were all disciples of the same teacher and that he was hiding nearby. During the battle he shoved Xu Ying Hao's father into Shi Yong Shan's blade, and so was the one responsible for his death. As he was disposing of the bodies, The Jade Raksha's father happened by and saw everything, so he killed him and his entire family, though the Jade Raksha escaped. 

In the end Xu Ying Hao keeps his word and agrees to go off with Leng Qiu Han (The Jade Raksha), but when she sees the two lovers saying good bye she has a change of heart and departs so they can be together, leaving behind her sword bound, showing that she has kept her promise to never kill again. This is reminiscent of the ending of Lady Hermit so it feel like an idea Ho Meng Hua wants to perfect. 


The fight sequences are entertaining. This is more in the realm of the swashbuckling style of wuxia, so it helps to keep that in mind watching the film. Personally I love the late-60s style, it is very athletic and the sword blows have a weight to them. There is also a sense of dancing steel to the moves. I think there are Cheng Pei-pei films that have better fight choreography but this is still pretty solid, and the focus is really more on the story anyways. But there are some things that are notable.

The use of lightness kung fu is quite good for the period it was made (at least in my opinion). One technique, which I always like, is cutting shot to shot, with a character in the tree tops, to create the illusion of them moving from tree to tree. The actor literally is just shot in a single tree each time, never leaps or moves, but the camera and the cuts make your imagination fill in the gap and it has a wonderful style.

There is a nice tree top fight sequence as well, where the characters are standing on top of bamboo trees and having a duel. You also see characters running on water. There is even a bamboo pole vault over a burning bridge. 

I quite liked the wirework and the way lightness kung fu was handled here. I do think if you are more accustomed to 90s wuxia or even late 70s wuxia, it may look less spectacular, but for a film made in 1968, I think it has some memorable lightness martial arts. 

The fight sequences themselves are somewhat standard for this period but I think very entertaining. I like that there is less editing down of the fights, more complete visuals of the actors (you see their whole body moving much of the time). With Cheng Pei-pei especially I find her footwork excellent and so it is nice to be able to see the steps as well as the sword strikes. She often fights with a sword in one hand and scabbard in the other, and this allows for a twirling attack of the swords as she parries and wades into the fray. 

In terms of violence, there is plenty of it. There are beheadings, people getting their eyes shot out with darts, and men being hacked to death by swords. There is plenty of red-hued Shaw Brothers blood spilled over the course of the film.  


In terms of taking inspiration from The Jade Raksha for an RPG, I think focusing on the villain would yield a lot of results for most GMs. His whole approach of using charity to gain reputation and loyalty, would work well for an antagonist in a wuxia campaign. Also his abode is riddled with traps and has a dungeon so it is something that you can fit into most campaigns, even non-wuxia settings. 

In terms of an adventure I think a GM can also draw on the idea of an NPC who could be an ally or enemy and whose quest for revenge somehow intersects with the party (with the details maybe not becoming clear until more information is obtained). 

Another thing worth drawing on is the consequences of revenge. I don't think it's fair to always hammer this stuff home for players. But every once in a while there probably ought to be reasonable and realistic misunderstandings or mistaken identity that make pursuing revenge recklessly a little more perilous. And there is always an aftermath. When the young son of Shi Xiong Shan tells Xu Ying Hao that he will take revenge when he gets older, you know as a viewer that no matter what happy ending the film has in store for Xu, one day his peace will be shattered by a man coming to avenge his father's death. This is a reminder to GMs to take note of these kinds of details when players also get revenge. 

For abilities there is a lot to draw on. In both Wandering Heroes of Ogre Gate and Righteous Blood Ruthless Blades, there are many existing techniques and signature abilities that can be reskinned to fit the swashbuckling style of sword play. But I would probably to add a few new ones. 

The first would be a Vengeful Blade technique, where the character gets 1 Extra Attack and does +1 Extra wounds when fulfilling a personal grudge. The other is a counter I would call Block and Slice to emulate something Cheng Pei-pei does frequently during the movie. This would be a counter that allows you to roll to block the attack, then make a sword strike against th target, but on a total success allows you to strike an additional foe in the area. 

The other ability I would want to capture is Jade Raksha's haunting song. I think for a game like Righteous Blood Ruthless Blades, I would have this be a signature ability that provides a flat +1d10 to the Talking and Analysis Phase anytime you sing before combat and imposes a fear effect with a successful command roll (on a success it might give a -1d10 penalty to Speed, and on a Total Success a speed penalty and a -1d10 to combat skill rolls). For Wandering Heroes of Ogre gate it would simply be a technique that creates the fear effect mentioned above. 

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