The Lady Hermit (1971)

Genres - Drama  |   Sub-Genres - Martial Arts  |   Run Time - 120 min.  |   Countries - Hong Kong   |   MPAA Rating - NR
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This fast-paced gem from Shaw Brothers gives the Chinese swordplay film an effective feminist twist. The storyline is built around archetypal scenarios -- a hero preparing for a rematch with a villain, a teacher training a student -- but the story also works in a romantic subplot worthy of Douglas Sirk that adds some unexpected dramatic heft to the proceedings. It also scores points by presenting its female fighters in a matter-of-fact fashion -- no one ever questions their ability to fight and they are presented on an equal level with the male characters. Best of all, the film is built on two strong performances from its leads: Cheng Pei-Pei carries herself with the grace and quiet intensity of a veteran star while Shih Szu offers the fire and unbridled energy of a young upstart. Both are charismatic and fight with great skill -- and they're so likeable that it is heartbreaking when they clash in the latter part of the film. It's also worth noting that The Lady Hermit is directed with skill by Ho Meng-Hua: he maintains a confident pace throughout, gets strong performances from his cast and he puts his love of visual trickery to good use in the often fanciful action sequences. In short, The Lady Hermit is a unique, well-made swordplay film that will appeal to both fans of martial arts films and anyone looking for an effective gender twist on traditional fare.