When bandits rape, pillage and burn down a local village, the 13 Cold-Blooded Eagles spring into action and wreak deadly revenge. Raised by martial arts master Yu Shi Hung (Yen Shi-Kwan), the Eagles are on a mission to rid the world of evil. Their latest target is the Shin Shu Monster (Chung Fat), who practices the fabled “Star-Bleeding Skill”, allowing his body be penetrated by daggers and swords without being killed. However, fellow eagles Brother Eh (Waise Lee) and Yinmin (Lau Ji-Wai) question why they have to wipe out rival kung fu schools. Brother Eh would rather settle down and marry his sweetheart, Purple Eagle. When the raid against Shin Shu Monster goes awry, Yinmin is plunged down a mountain and left for dead. He is revived by Quihua (Cynthia Khan), a beautiful, lute-playing maiden with mystical kung fu powers, to whom the secret of the “Star-Bleeding Skill” was entrusted by her late father. Yinmin’s love for Quihua leaves him further conflicted about his mission while Brother Eh learns some tragic news that also makes him see Yu Shi Hung in a different light.
This was one of a small handful of films made by stuntman-turned-director Choy Fat, whose other notable movie was the Category III soft-core horror opus Holy Virgin vs. the Evil Dead (1991). 13 Cold-Blooded Eagles is a more traditional venture compared to that salacious effort, a throwback to Seventies swordplay movies though no less eccentric. Plot and action race by so fast they become a blur, although Choy Fat’s human yo-yo fight choreography and stylish, acrobatic camerawork are top notch.
Like wu xia (“swordplay”) adaptations of the past this has a satirical bent, attacking corrupt institutions and those who mask their greed beneath false virtue. The Eagles’ mission to unify the world by eliminating all other schools of thought could easily stand as an allegory for the Cultural Revolution. Substitute Chairman Mao for their foster father Yu Shi Hung and you can understand why so many wu xia novels were banned in China. The plot splinters in several directions with seemingly major characters dying abruptly and the genre’s obligatory surreal interlude wherein one hero falls down a hole where a crazy hermit teaches him some arcane kung fu.
Despite the presence of big name stars Cynthia Khan and Waise Lee, it is actually the lesser-known Lau Ji-Wai who shoulders the bulk of the drama and does so capably. The fetching Khan first came to prominence when she replaced Michelle Yeoh (then known as Michelle Khan) as star of the popular In the Line of Duty movies. She quickly became typecast as a no-nonsense lady cop, although a winning turn in Sixties-set comedy It’s Now or Never (1993) showed she was capable of more. Khan and her blistering kung fu skills come to the fore throughout the film’s latter third which is essentially an escalating series of battles. Most memorably, during Quihua’s jaw-dropping face-off with the 13 Little Eagles, a band of eight to ten year old kung fu kids Shi Hung has been secretly training. Most of the children maintain admirably stoic faces but one or two really look like they’re having a ball trading kung fu blows with a star like Khan.