17 Jun THE FLYING DAGGER (1969) REVIEW
By Peter Altman (@misterlychee)
THE FLYING DAGGER, directed by Cheh Chang, is a Kung fu film with a deep emotional center. In the opening of the movie, Yu Ying (Pei-Pei Cheng) happens upon the scene of a rape and double murder. Outraged, she kills the perpetrator, son of the leader of the infamous Green Dragon Clan chief Jiao Lei (Chih-Ching Yang). To avenge the death of his son, Chief Jiao attacks Yu Ying’s father, Yu Yuan (Miao Ching) who, though severely injured, manages to escape.
Chief Jiao is known as the Flying Dagger for his almost peerless knife throwing ability. He hunts down Yu Yuan mercilessly in an attempt to finally settle the score and avenge his son’s death. However, he is thwarted in his plans by the emergence of mysterious stranger Yang Qing (Lieh Lo), whose ability to throw projectiles rivals that of Jiao Lei himself. Chief Jiao tries several times to tempt Yang Qing with money to join his Green Dragon Gang (a gang, which for reasons not entirely made clear, wears exclusively blue outfits. I guess they didn’t read the memo). Yang Qing, however, can’t be bought.
The chief protagonist, Yang Qing, is molded very much in the likeness of a Western genre hero. A mysterious stranger, he rides into town on a horse and uses his superior weapon skills to save the village from the tyranny of the evil Green Dragon Clan. He is the ancient Chinese counterpart to a Clint Eastwood character complete with an overcoat that hides his always-armed-and-ready-weapon hand from the view of unsuspecting adversaries. He uses his martial proficiency to fight on the side of society, but after saving it, will he ultimately abandon it? Or will he chose the horse over the girl and ride away in typical Western fashion? I think you can guess the answer.
Though Yang Qing comes to the rescue of several victims of the Green Dragon Clan, he appears morally ambiguous throughout much of the film claiming, “sometimes I like to poke my nose into trivial matters, but it depends on whether I am interested or not.” He also dons the outfit of a defeated member of the evil Green Dragon Clan for the latter half of the movie (maybe he is partial to the blue). He saves the life of sinister old Chief Jiao from an attack by the Five Ghouls Gang and even uses emotional manipulation to bargain for a night with the goodly and beauteous Yu Ying. It is only later, after Yang Qing releases Yu Ying from her promise and she gives herself to him freely, that we learn that Yang Qing grew up an orphaned child and was left wandering alone to fend for himself. He “learned martial arts by watching others” and “[he hadn’t] had proper training.” It’s clear that Yang Qing is in many ways still that abandoned child left to raise himself. And, much like an abandoned child, he desperately wants to belong but doesn’t quite know how. In this light, it is possible to view Yang Qing’s bargaining for sex with Yu Ying as a childish and unsophisticated attempt at intimacy and connection instead of an example of boorish and coercive toxic masculinity the way it would likely be viewed today.
THE FLYING DAGGER deals with themes of greed, revenge, honor, chivalry, and the internal struggle between good and evil that exists within all of us. It delivers a message about the transformative power of love to act as a force for good in our lives and throws in some badass sword fights to boot.
There is a lot of sword (and, of course, flying dagger) action in THE FLYING DAGGER, but almost no hand-to-hand combat. The fight scenes are short, but numerous and memorable. I really wanted to see more of the leather and spike clad Five Ghouls gang. They are dispatched with much too quickly and deserve a movie all their own. THE FLYING DAGGER gives you more emotional complexity and story for your 90 minutes than most martial arts flicks, and is definitely worth a watch.
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Peter Altman is an avid fan of Shaw Brothers films and Asian culture. He explored a variety of martial arts practices growing up and is currently a licensed practitioner of acupuncture. He longs for the days of exploring Mott Street and watching Hong Kong double features at the Rosemary and Music Palace theaters in New York City’s Chinatown.
Follow Peter on Twitter @misterlychee