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  • THE SWORDMATES (1969) is just an average Shaw Bros. swordplay adventure, but given how good the above-average ones are, the average ones tend to be highly pleasing as well. (Even the below-average ones are frequently worth watching.) This one is only 76 minutes long, but the overwhelming majority of it is filled with swordfighting and horse-riding action and the pace never lets up. It's got the simplest of plots—various factions battle it out over possession of a jade statue of the Goddess of Mercy that holds some kind of secret—and the action choreography is never terribly intricate, but it's got a cast of familiar faces who are old hands at this kind of thing and the director just puts them in front of the camera and lets them do their stuff and we're happy to go along for the ride.

    The lead actress is Chin Ping, who plays Yan Niang, the daughter of the Chief of a Security Bureau hired to escort the jade statue. When the Chief disappears, after his entire party is attacked and robbed of the statue, Chin Ping must then seek out both her father and the statue with the help of allies she picks up along the way, not all of whom she should trust. She dresses as a man for much of the story and looks quite sharp in her swordsman outfits. The actress had done this kind of thing before (in TEMPLE OF THE RED LOTUS, TWIN SWORDS, THE SWORD AND THE LUTE, KILLER DARTS, and VENGEANCE IS A GOLDEN BLADE, all reviewed by me on this site) and she's just as good here, although her characters were somewhat more developed in the earlier films. Even though she's doubled in the long shots, the actress does a lot of her own swordplay and, while the moves are simple, she performs them with the proper vigor and verve.

    Huang Tsung-shun, who normally played bad guys, co-stars as Chin Ping's father. Wang Hsieh and Chao Hsiung, venerable heavies from the Shaw Bros. rogues' gallery, lead the bandit gang from "Fierce Tiger Mansion." Veteran actor Yang Chih Ching plays "Iron Claws," a lone fighter who may not be what he seems. He normally played officials and authority figures, some benevolent and some corrupt, but here, at the age of 50, he appears in a full-fledged action role as a man who uses his bare hands to effortlessly toss opponents around and break their swords in two.

    Most of the film was shot outdoors, with some scenes set against picturesque locations in Taiwan. The music score is a mix of different cues, with several recognizable ones taken from John Barry's James Bond scores. When this was released in 2004 by Celestial Pictures, it came out only on VCD (video compact disc, a cheaper version of the DVD), which is what I watched it on. If you're unconcerned about the format and just want to see the movie, this one comes highly recommended.
  • Sword Mates is a pre-old-school martial arts movie from Shaw Brothers that I would recommend to any fan of the Shaw Brothers martial arts genre. I label it pre-old-school because most of the martial arts is done by actors with no martial arts training and they almost always use swords. If anyone is watching to spot Sammo Hung (I admit I'm watching for him too!)he appears at about the 1:08:50 time mark in black and gold as one of the barbarian king's guards. The plot and the characters here hold up quite well. Without revealing too much we have the bonus of a bad guy who appears at first to be a good guy and a good guy who is mistaken for a bad guy. Back to the actors not having any real martial arts skills. I love the way that they appear to have skills because it is really the stunt men, who do have skills, that sell the fight. This movie absolutely proves that concept. Right up until the final scene the fighting appears good, especially for 1969. The whole thing falls apart when the three main actors go against each other at the end. The moves are clumsy, off target, and weak. I think the director realized it too and just added a lot of people jumping over each other to try and distract from it. Other than that I urge all fans of this genre to enjoy a good show.