Wednesday, March 25, 2009

My Blade, My Life (Taiwan, 1982)

My Blade, My Life (in my head, I hear that title spoken in the voice of a sassy black lady) looks to have had a somewhat more generous budget than the typical Pearl Cheung Ling starrer of its day, coming as it does on the heels of three of Pearl’s most simultaneously threadbare and patently insane contributions to Kung Fu cinema – i.e. Dark Lady of Kung Fu, Wolf Devil Woman and Miraculous Flower. Though produced in Taiwan by I Film Co., it has the look of a more modest Shaw Brothers production, an impression enhanced by the presence in the cast of such Shaw regulars as Yueh Hwa, Lo Lieh, and Nancy Yen Nan-see.

In fact, if you squint a little, you might even mistake My Blade, My Life for one of Chor Yuen’s later Ku Long adaptations. It features a large and ever-shifting cast of characters, confusing rivalries between exotic clans, swordfights on fog enshrouded marshes, and a theme that seems to emphasize the spiritual cost of the Martial World’s routine of endless rivalry upon the heroes honor-bound to observe it. Thankfully, though, Pearl Cheung Ling is here to bridge the gap between MBML and what came before, bringing to the proceedings her signature sword-wielding violent bag lady persona – the type of character who might pop up momentarily in one of Chor’s films, but certainly would never be put front and center – driving home the crazy with an outfit that includes a rough wool tunic that makes her looks like she has an entire sheep – perhaps still living – draped across her torso.

While MBML gives the surface appearance of having some pretty intricate plotting, boiled down to its essence it’s a fairly simple revenge tale. Pearl plays a grim itinerant swordsman going by the name Lone Traveler Lu. I use the term “swordsman” advisedly, because, in that grand and endlessly confusing wuxia movie tradition, Pearl is taken at face value by everyone she meets to be a man, despite the fact that she is very obviously… well, Pearl Cheung Ling. The movie even plays the final reveal of her true gender as a sort of shock moment, despite the fact that… well, I repeat myself.

In any case, Pearl is traveling from kingdom to kingdom in search of a hero called Peerless Swallow whom she has sworn vengeance upon. Over the course of this search, she reveals herself to have a bit of a temper, and is quick to slaughter anyone who gets in her way in the most gory way possible. This aspect of the story proves once and for all that, despite its stately trappings, My Blade, My Life is, at its heart, a Pearl Cheung Ling film, a fact no better proven than by scenes in which Pearl slices a guy’s entire lower jaw off and drives a pair of chopsticks through another’s face.

This adherence to the PCL brand identity also means that we get to see our heroine take part in some crazy wire-assisted swordplay accompanied by weird outer space sound effects. The best example of this occurs in a scene set in the lair of the evil Yin-Yang clan – a wonderful set that sticks very literally to it’s theme, with a stark black and white color scheme and lots of yin-yang motifs. That this particular fight scene reminded me of nothing so much as Infra-man will be recognized by all who know me as about the highest compliment I could possibly bestow upon it. Unfortunately, such scenes are not quite as plentiful as one might hope, because MBML indeed spends a good deal of time going about the business of being a wuxia in the Ku Long mode, introducing lots of random characters and intrigues that don’t really end up seeming to have much significance to its basic storyline.

My Blade, My Life was written and directed by Chan Ming-wa, who, as I mentioned in my review of his China Armed Escort, seemed to have only helmed films in which Pearl starred, though I have no clue as to what their relationship was. In the final analysis, it’s a good looking and reasonably enjoyable film – well worth watching for its best moments, but never quite living up to the promise that those moments suggest. And, in case you’re not clear on it, by “best” I mean “strangest”. If you’re a fan of Pearl’s, like I am, you may be mildly disappointed by it in the long run, but you’ll still be glad not to have missed that fight scene in the Yin-Yang lair, or her pushing those chopsticks through that guy’s face. At least that is my sober and well-considered opinion.


Anonymous said...

Heck, I'm tempted to watch it just to see Pearl in that cool wool tunic!

houseinrlyeh aka Denis said...

Each and every form of chopstick fu at once puts a movie into the realm of "pieces of art everyone should experience".
At least that's what it says in my Kung Fu manual.

Keith said...

Pearl deserves a bigger cult following than she has. When I got more seriously into kungfu films back in 1990 or so, Miraculous Flower and Matching Escort were two of the first films I watched. I still haven't fully recovered and hope I never do.

Todd said...

I think Pearl's a real treasure, and it amazes me that it's so difficult to find information about her, especially given what a unique figure she is in kung fu cinema. I mean, how many people's faces does a girl have to impale with chopsticks before she can get a little recognition?

Anonymous said...

the best film that i've ever seen.