5 September 2004 | BrianDanaCamp
DRAGON SWAMP Costume fantasy with Cheng Pei Pei in dual role
DRAGON SWAMP (1969) is a costume fantasy adventure from Hong Kong's Shaw Bros. studio that offers a quaint tale involving a stolen sword, torn families and a mystical swamp region with all kinds of fantastic menaces to threaten the uninitiated. There is some martial arts swordplay but not enough to call this an action film. Directed by Lo Wei, it seems positively old-fashioned when placed against the "heroic bloodshed" films that Chang Cheh was making at Shaw at the same time, such as GOLDEN SWALLOW, which also stars Cheng Pei Pei. Yet DRAGON SWAMP remains a charming and delightful film and one which looks forward to the more hyperactive swordplay fantasies that Chor Yuen would direct for the studio in the late 1970s (e.g. THE MAGIC BLADE, KILLER CLANS, CLANS OF INTRIGUE, and DEATH DUEL, all of which are also reviewed on this site).
The real draw of this film is the lovely performance of Cheng Pei Pei, who plays both a naive young martial arts student venturing out into the world for the first time on an assignment to retrieve the stolen Jade Dragon Sword and her own mother, who had given her as an infant to her taoist kung fu master to raise. The split screen work in their reunion scenes is flawless. The character of a traveling swordswoman dressed as a man is something of a cliché in these films, yet every actress who plays it always manages to bring something new and exciting to the part and Cheng is no exception. Check out that sweet little smirk she gives as she sits in a gambling hall with assorted rowdy swordsmen. Later, in the film's action highlight, she is ambushed in a roadside restaurant inn by a host of incognito villains and she fights them off with great style.
Yueh Hua appears as a swordsman who once loved the mother. He helps the daughter negotiate her way through the obstacles blocking the route to the Swamp Master's Great Hall in Dragon Swamp. (Wait till you see those rampaging giant "dragons.") The always dependable Lo Lieh plays the thief who initially steals the sword and hides a secret of his own. Ku Feng plays a good guy for a change and Fan Mei-Sheng and Han Ying Chieh are among the scoundrels who ambush Pei Pei in the inn. The production is quite sumptuous with a lyrical music score, beautiful sets and costumes and picturesque locations in some scenes.