Seven years after Golden
Sword Lodge chief Bai Chun-tung (Lo Wei, who also directed) disappeared
under mysterious circumstances, his son, Bai Yu-long (Kao Yuen), sets
out on his own to find him. If three years pass and he has been unsuccessful,
Yu-long will concur with Hua Shan chief Ngs declaration that
his father has likely met with some sort of fatal occurrence. Two
years later, while travelling through the snowy countryside en route
to a small town beyond the frontier, Yu-long encounters filthy beggar
Ngai Jin-feng (Cheng Pei-pei). The two strike up a friendship and
Yu-long is amazed to learn that the boy possesses great martial skills.
He is even more amazed to discover that Jin-feng is also a member
of the Beggar Clan and a woman, whose real name is Fung-er.
She joins him on his quest and, after a year on the road together,
Fung-er accepts his hand in marriage. On the morning after their nuptials,
a most unusual "gift" arrives, along with the same two masked
riders who appeared right before Chun-tung disappeared a decade earlier.
Next thing he knows, Yu-long is an unwilling guest of Dragon Palace,
a mystical kingdom where the women are the rulers and martial experts,
and men are slaves.
Adapted from a novel by Ngai Hong,
this is a lovely looking but rather stodgy effort. Aside from an inspired
(but brief) use of split screen, the film is stagy and the choreography
rather slow and exaggerated, though still appropriate for the material.
As tends to be the case with older features, the women are more resourceful
and courageous, and far better fighters, which lends some novelty
and adds to the enjoyment of scenes set in Dragon Palace (which includes
an underground lair, where male prisoners are forced to perform hard
labor by whip-cracking guards). There is also a lively, impromptu
song and dance number by the beggars, extolling the joys of their
carefree lifestyle. While Kao Yuen is personable and Cheng Pei-pei
as winning as ever, the story takes so long to unfold, ones
interest gradually starts to flag. The climactic revelations are well-handled
however, and the final sequence is effectively melancholy. Ku Feng
also appears (as the leader of some bandits known as The Three Cripples),
along with Huang Tsung-hsun, Ku Wen-chung (suitably flamboyant as
the leader of the beggars), and Chin Yuet-sang.