5 September 2004 | BrianDanaCamp
THAT FIERY GIRL colorful showcase for Cheng Pei Pei
THAT FIERY GIRL (1968) is one of a number of swashbuckling films made by Hong Kong's Shaw Bros. studio to showcase actress Cheng Pei Pei. It's not nearly as intense or action-packed as her better-known efforts (COME DRINK WITH ME, GOLDEN SWALLOW, THUNDERING SWORD), but it's a brightly colored romantic costume drama with swordplay that's easy on the eyes and should satisfy fans of the star. Cheng plays Pearl, nicknamed "Red Chili," daughter of an outlaw leader, who falls in love with a new recruit, Mei Daniu (Chen Liang), arousing the jealousy of the gang's Third Chief (Cheng Lei), who had hoped to marry Pearl himself. Mei Daniu is actually a member of the Mei Clan, enemies of the outlaws, who has managed to infiltrate the gang by bringing with him a prized treasure map that the gang had sought to obtain by repeated raids on the Mei Clan. The other chiefs suspect him, but Pearl's interest in him keeps him protected. Only when Pearl learns a hidden family secret from her nanny (Ouyang Shafei) does a major shift in loyalties occur.
Most of the film is taken up with romantic complications, jealousy and intrigue as the strong-willed Pearl encourages Mei Daniu's affections and protects him from the others' plotting, while Mei Daniu, who has fallen in love with Pearl himself, struggles to try and get tactical info about the gang's mountain stronghold back to his comrades so they can plan their attack. Not a lot of fighting occurs until the final 15 minutes when a series of major battles and sword fights provides a suitable action pay-off. The fight choreography is not terribly intricate, but it is entertaining. This was, after all, not a Chang Cheh film, but was directed by old Shaw Bros. hand Yen Chun (Jan Yun) who specialized in romantic dramas, costume pictures and opera-style musicals. His other credits include BRIDE NAPPING (1962) and THE GRAND SUBSTITUTION (1965), both also reviewed on this site.
Cheng Pei Pei cuts a striking figure in a succession of attractive outfits and endears us to her headstrong character as she protects the hero and learns the truth about her own past. Other fine Shaw Bros. regulars in the cast include Cheng Lei and Fan Mei-Sheng as the hero's rivals in the outlaw gang, Ku Feng as the hero's chief lieutenant, Ouyang Shafei as the devoted nanny, and Lily Li as the nanny's teenage daughter. (Lily Li went on to become a kung fu diva in her own right in the 1970s in such films as EXECUTIONERS FROM SHAOLIN, SHAOLIN MANTIS, and DAGGERS EIGHT.) The male lead is Chen Liang, a Korean star who made his Shaw Bros. debut with this film and made three more Hong Kong films before returning to Korea. He's kind of stiff, but he's got the rugged good looks required for the role of Mei Daniu and handles the minimal action requirements adequately.
This may not be among the most exciting Shaw Bros. releases we've yet seen, but it tells a good story, is beautifully shot and staged, and gives Cheng Pei Pei the kind of attention-getting role her fans enjoy.