Movie Report: The Lost Swordship (1979)

Book coverAh, gentle reader, I picked up this film with a heavy heart. As I mentioned in July, I spotted a nice rapier in a cabinet at Relics and wanted to buy it, but I did not want to pay cash for it, instead hoping that I would get gift money somewhere and could return. So the week after Christmas, when I had to stop by Relics for a Christmas gift for friends for whom I’d hoped to make something but did not, I had Christmas gift money in hand to buy the rapier. And…. It was gone. The little cabinet that had been stocked with blades of all kinds was down to a katana, a couple sword canes, a bayonet, and a couple of knives. I was greatly disappointed, but I did not buy the katana as I was hoping for a rapier. So for three days, I hemmed and hawed and decided I would take the katana since I have space on my wall, and it was slightly less expensive than the rapier. And on New Year’s Day, and I went to Relics, and…. The katana was also gone; the cabinet only had a couple of knives and sword canes left. I am not even tempted to buy any of them.

So it perhaps was fitting that I popped in this film, which I bought at Relics with Christmas 2022’s gift card.

Natively entitled Piao xiang jian yu, this is a 1977 Taiwanese kung fu film. Surely this would not have made it to American late night television in time for us to have seen in on a Saturday night in 1981 or 1982 after Hawaii Five-O. If it was on Kung-Fu Theater in Milwaukee a few years after release, though, I might have seen it before. But unlikely.

At any rate, the story: A “Bishop” (according to the subtitles)–attacks a monastery or martial arts school and kills its members but the son of the owner(?) survives and vows revenge. Meanwhile, another martial artist finds his wife has been kidnapped or killed by the Bishop. He vows revenge. The other guy is her lover. One of them is impressed into the service of “the Bishop” to save her and the other goes looking for her. The one not in the Bishop’s service ends up being taught by two thieves to swordfight with special tricks like throwing the sword like a deadly boomerang. In the end, they team up and discover “the Bishop” was the wife/lover all along.

To be honest, I found the film hard to follow. The two male leads, the husband and the lover, both have long hair and wore it similarly, so I didn’t realize at first that they were different people. The subtitles didn’t help–they were inconsistently paced so that sometimes, short subtitles would be up for a long time, but other times, a longer block of text comprising a couple of lines would show and disappear quickly. So one watched the action on the screen at the risk of missing the plot points.

I didn’t find much on this film online–the IMDB entry and a couple of similar if not scraped Web sites–but on Letterboxd, other reviews indicate that the editing of this film made it hard to follow for other people, perhaps not just those of us dwelling on the subtitles trying to follow the plot.

So, yeah, kung fu theater. Okay if you’re into this thing, but not enough to make one forget the loss of a sword that could have been mine.

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