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Old School Kung Fu Fest 2023: Vengeance of the Phoenix Sisters

Apr 24, 2023

The 10th Old School Kung Fu Fest: Sword-fighting Heroes Edition: Day 2- “Vengeance of the Phoenix Sisters”

Vengeance is the theme for the opening weekend of this year’s fest!

The Taiwan Film & Audiovisual Institute has provided this year’s festival with a true gem of Martial Arts wuxia cinema, 1968’s “Vengeance of the Phoenix Sisters”, the filmmaking debut of editor Hung-Min Chen.

While the Shaw Brothers ran the dominant studio in Hong Kong, many excellent lower budget Taiwanese dialect films began to make their mark in the world of Kung Fu cinema. “Vengeance of the Phoenix Sisters” is one of the best and a perfect specimen of how to create something big without the backing of a big studio.

In the roles of the three sisters, the film cast three of Taiwanese cinema’s biggest names. Opera superstars Yang Li-hua and Liu Ching as the eldest and second sisters, and Chin Mei as third sister.

Disguising herself as a man, the steadfast eldest sister, Xiu Feng, leaves her master’s training to find the men who killed her mother and father 15 years ago.

With its balletic choreography, expressive cinematography from Huang Jui-chang, and kinetic editing, “Vengeance of the Phoenix Sisters” rivals the best Shaw Brothers swordplay films of the era.

The story is anchored by its strong female characters, each one a skilled warrior, eventually reuniting to destroy the men who killed their parents. The murdered are three bandit brothers: “Poisonous Darts” Lu Tianba (Kang Ming), “Lethal Needles” Cao Senxiong (Wu Pin-Nan) and “Dragon Dagger” Ke Yingqiang (Yi Yuan.)

As the lands are traveled and the battles rage, Jui-Chang Huang crafts interestingly framed stand-offs and beautiful compositions of the landscape that earn proper comparison to Asakazu Nakai’s camerawork for Akira Kurosawa’s legendary black and white films.

Shots of lone Xiu Feng walking the empty, wind-swept streets of the villages, perfectly placed bowls of noodles on a table, warriors crawling along moonlit rooftops; each salient frame becomes a visual feast for the audience. The stunning final shot stands as the perfect representation of the power of the three sisters. The women stand together victorious, high on a mountaintop that is as majestic as our heroes, their striking figures shining against the bright sun as the music swells. The moment is breathtaking.

The fights are many and always involving. The actresses prove their mettle working with the fantastic stunt teams, and while the choreography doesn’t have the balletic movements of the King Hu films, all are great fun to watch. Director Hung-Min Chen used a good deal of handheld shots during the battles. This choice (unique for this type of film at the time) allows the fight scenes to have rawer of a feel than other wuxia films of the era. The choreography doesn’t go for speed but focuses on technique.

Full of intense fighting, impressive camerawork, a beautiful operatic score, and three strong female leads, “Vengeance of the Phoenix Sisters” is a compelling wuxia film and one of the best offerings of Taiwanese Martial Arts cinema.

 

Vengeance of the Phoenix Sisters

Written by Ko Chu

Directed by Hung-Min Chen

Starring Yang Li-hua, Liu Ching, & Chin Mei

NR, 88 Minutes, New Regal Production Company

 

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