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  Jade Dagger Ninja Here come the Heartbreak Gang
Year: 1982
Director: Li Chao-Yung
Stars: Chung Wa, Tien Peng, Doris Lung Chun-Erh, Wang Hsieh, Gua Ah-Leh, Nancy Yen Nan-See, Chin Meng, Tin Hok, Kam Kong, Shut Chung-Tin, Yun Zhong-Yue, Ma Cheng, Mau Ging-Shun, Gu Bao-Ming, Wong Chi-Sang, Chen Liang-Hsieh, Chen Chin-Hai, Lee Wai
Genre: Martial Arts, Weirdo, Fantasy, AdventureBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Martial Arts Movie Survival Guide - rule number five: If you happen upon a brooding stranger sitting on a rock playing the flute, for god’s sake, don’t strike up a conversation. Especially if he has a name like Master Cold Heart (Chung Wa)! One clueless traveller learns this the hard way when Cold heart rams that flute right through his throat then slaughters his equally luckless friends. Not simply because he’s antisocial, you understand. He’s part of the Heartbreak Red Gang who, for reasons unknown, are killing anyone who journeys to the Sunset Villa where Governor Lu (Wang Hsieh) is hosting his daughter’s wedding. One dastardly evildoer, the Heartbreak Warrior (Yun Zhong-Yue) goes a step further and tries to rape the kung fu kicking bride-to-be, Aurora Lu (Doris Lung Chun-Erh), but she is rescued by dashing hero Liu Hsiao-Feng (Tien Peng).

Sadly his chivalrous actions earn him the enmity of Aurora’s boorish betrothed, ace swordsman Hao Yu Long (Tin Hok). He does not believe Hsiao Feng is attending the wedding on behalf of his sick master. As it turns out, Yu Long is right. Hsiao Feng is really searching for the man who murdered his wife, the same man he suspects is out to steal Governor Lu’s prized possession: the Purple Jade Badger. This martial arts Macguffin contains an elixir that can transform anyone into an invincible kung fu superhero, but probably won’t grant them wisdom enough to fathom why this stuff is held inside a badger. Inevitably the badger is stolen and Hsiao Feng is framed for the crime. Only nice girl Aurora believes in his innocence. Together they piece together an elaborate conspiracy involving the Heartbreak Red Gang, whilst pursued by a sexy nymphomaniac assassin named Sai Chu Chu (Chin Meng).

Well, you’ve got to love a kung fu movie featuring a sexy nymphomaniac assassin, haven’t you? In fact, Sai Chu Chu proves among the more interesting characters thrown up by a plot driven by themes of thwarted love and romantic betrayal. Despite her good looks, uptight sword heroes Hsiao Feng and Yu Long are repeatedly repulsed by her suggestive remarks, a reversal of the usual situation where a rowdy warrior pursues a virtuous maiden. At one point Hsiao Feng agrees to marry Chu Chu provided she spares the lives of his captive friends, though he admits to feeling pity for her. “I don’t want your sympathy. I want your body!” wails Chu Chu. Their sparky love/hate relationship comes to a perversely poignant end when the eternally frustrated Chu Chu finally achieves the closest thing she can get to being penetrated by Hsiao Feng, and expires happily.

Also known as Shaolin Fox Conspiracy, Jade Dagger Ninja is not a top drawer martial arts movie but provides ample examples of why schlocky chop-socky flicks can be so much fun. Dancing to its own bizarre rhythm, the film pulls a different villain out of the hat and a subplot to go with them, every five minutes. Our ostensible antagonist, Master Cold Heart, turns out to be merely blackmailed into committing villainy by his estranged lover, Lady Shang (Gua Ah-Leh), who in turn bears a grudge against Governor Lu for abandoning her for another woman. But then she is despatched by her duplicitous master (Kam Kong), who gulps down the elixir transforming into a green skinned martial arts master with a shock of white hair who roars just like the Incredible Hulk! Three heroes and one sword thrust through the top of his skull, and he goes out like a punk.

If the film is remembered at all these days it is likely for being among the last notable outings for kung fu fan favourite, Doris Lung Chun-Erh. Exceptionally beautiful and a capable martial artist, she was initially groomed for super-stardom, appearing opposite Jackie Chan in Shaolin Wooden Men (1976) and Jimmy Wang Yu in Master of the Flying Guillotine (1976), and in several memorable films. Sadly, Lung Chun-Erh’s allegedly unstable character drove her to three suicide attempts and producers were reluctant to cast her in any further films.

The dialogue is all riddles and wordplay, which makes the murky plot even harder to follow. Midway through, the film reveals the hero’s name isn’t really Hsiao-Feng at all, but Flying Fox. Which implies veteran Tien Peng (sometimes billed as Roc Tien) is playing the character created by prolific wu xia novelist Jing Yong, who appears in the Chang Cheh/Shaw Brothers film Legend of the Fox (1980), the later Shaw Brothers remake New Tales of the Flying Fox (1984) and the post-New Wave fantasy comedy, Sword of Many Lovers (1993). Some lovely sets and striking cinematography (notably a fight scene back-lit with red fog, where Hsiao-Feng battles killers in Halloween costumes) mark Jade Dagger Ninja as a cut above most fly-by-night productions from this period. Which makes it a shame it is most commonly available via a grainy print with lousy dubbing that makes the cast sound like laughing hyaenas. The dub does result in one priceless line delivered by Hsiao-Feng after he bests a quartet of killers known as the Four Kings: “Well, you’re no four-king good!” Music stolen from Vertigo (1958), Suspiria (1977), The Spy Who Loved Me (1977), among many others.

Reviewer: Andrew Pragasam


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