Moonlight Sword and Jade Lion (1977 HKMDB, or 1981 IMDB)
Director: Karl Liao
Writers: Karl Liao
Starring: Angela Mao, Doris Lung and Wu Jia-Xiang

The Plot: Chu Sau-Yin (Angela Mao) is a trained martial artist who is asked by her master to complete a seemingly simple task: find his friend. Knowing the city in which her master’s friend formerly resided, she heads off in order to ask around about the man. When she finally makes it to the post where he was supposedly last employed, no one seems to know a thing. She is told that he now lives out in the mountains by himself. Taking this knowledge with her, she heads off into the mountains and begins to ask around about him. When he doesn’t turn up there either, she is once again pointed to the same post that he was supposed to be employed. Things are starting to look fishy at this point. So, once she heads back into town she receives a new story altogether. This time she is told that he has been missing for several months, and that his former coworkers and employers have been searching for him as well. A mystery has arisen, and it won’t be long before Chu Sau-Yin has to unsheathe her sword and show these people just who they are messing with.

The Review
Female martial art tales from the 1970s are not entirely numerous, but there are more to be found than one might expect. The notoriously chauvinistic Asian region has a reputation for setting women to the side and letting the men take the lead when it comes to this sort of thing, but Hong Kong was a often surprisingly progressive nation in this regard. The most famous example from this period would be Come Drink With Me, which made Chin Pei Pei into a huge star in her native land, but there were certainly others that looked to capitalize on the concept of a woman kicking a bit of butt every now and then. Midnight Sword and Jade Lion is another film which asks for the men to sit back and let the ladies take the steering wheel, and it would seem that this venture into postmodernist feminism is just the sort of forward thinking needed to round out this Warner Bros. 4-movie action pack! Unfortunately, while the intentions are to be celebrated, the movie itself certainly proves to be the weakest title on this set.

There is a pretty large problem within Moonlight Sword and Jade Lion, and it is something that affects many kung fu titles from this era. In the hopes of filling their film with all sorts of intrigue, the filmmakers create a overly-complicated plot that only manages to confuse its audience along the way. When ensemble productions are put together, and you can see this often in the latter work of Chang Cheh, there is a unfortunate reliance on massive plots that rarely tie together. These films were often shot with little to no budget, and they were completed in a very short amount of time, but for some reason the filmmakers often felt the need to craft overly-complicated plots that would make the Bond-film franchise blush. In the case of Moonlight Sword and Jade Lion, the movie simply relies far too heavily on a laundry list of characters. As the film progresses, the audience is able to latch onto Angela Mao’s character and her search for her master’s friend, but her story becomes clouded due to an assortment of heroes and villains who all have their own apparent motivations. Somewhere around the half-way point, I simply started to give up. Even whilst taking notes, this one can prove to be a bit too dense in terms of narrative devices.

Angela Mao, Lady Whirlwind herself, was a big star in Hong Kong, and she was essentially at the twilight of her career when Moonlight Sword and Jade Lion came along. Although she still looks, and performs, as fantastic as ever, this feature was made in the last decade before she decided to retire from film in order to focus on her family. Mao, who fans may best remember as Bruce Lee’s sister during the introduction to Enter the Dragon, is in spectacular form throughout the film. All of the fight scenes are handled well, but there’s something fun about watching Mao throw down. She has a very light and elegant style, and she seems to be one of the few females during her prime who could really deliver upon the necessities of her martial arts choreography. Doris Lung also pops up in the movie. She plays the female temptress who seems to ensnare all of the men. Her character also works for the evil warlord who secretly wants Angela Mao’s jade-lion statue. Lung is very solid in her role as well, but she is required much less in terms of athletic prowess when it comes to her fight scenes. Still, she manages to impress, and the entire production starts to resemble a pre-cursor to the Hong Kong “girls with guns” genre.

As the movie progresses, however, it simply loses the majority of its steam. In the beginning, those of us in the audience are excited to see Angela Mao. We know that she will deliver something fresh to a sometimes-stale genre, but as the movie marches on, that excitement is lessened by the plotting which becomes more and more tedious. When it isn’t enough that Angela Mao’s character is searching for the man who kidnapped her master’s friend, we throw in the death of Mao’s parents in order to establish even more antagonism. The filmmakers seem as if they weren’t entirely sure how they could keep this story feeling fresh throughout, so they simply threw in as many twists and turns as they could so that audiences would never get bored. Unfortunately, this turns out to have the exact opposite effect. While the movie generally has many positive attributes going for it, the incoherent plot and mishandling by the filmmakers leaves it a sizable mess.

The Conclusion
Truly the one film that deviates from the quality of the rest of this Warner Bros. martial arts 4-pack, Moonlight Sword and Jade Lion is a bit on the “meh” side. However, it does have some fairly entertaining fight sequences throughout. On the whole, I give it a two out of five.

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