A “New” spin on the wuxia revenge does not disappoint!
The third film I caught at the 10th Old School Kung Fu Fest was the New York Premiere of the Digital Restoration of Chen Hung-min’s Vengeance Of The Phoenix Sisters. This was the directorial debut of Chen Hung-min, who had editing duties on King Hu’s Dragon Inn and it feels like a bad ass wuxia manga come to life. The film is a frantic black and white revenger that starts off shockingly similar to The Swordsman Of All Swordsmen — a family is slaughtered by a gang of bandits, but this time, instead of a singular male child, we have three females who when they reach adulthood set out to get revenge for their fallen family.
The film ups the drama by separating the sisters when their family home is ransacked and pick up 15 years when their paths begin to cross by happenstance. When the middle sister Qingfeng (Liu) happens upon their youngest, Zhifeng (Chin) after her adoptive family is attacked by the same bandits, they eventually find their oldest sister Xiufeng (Yang) who has spent the last 15 years training under her father’s martial arts teacher. In a rather progressive plot thread Xiufeng is masculine-presenting, while on the hunt. What surprised me most is this isn’t played simply for some comedic or shock effect either, but shows how Xiufeng is able to move around in this world as a master swordsman differently than her sisters.
Once all three women reunite the film goes as expected, and I don’t mean that in a negative way at all. While the narrative may seem familiar, Phoenix Sisters really surprises with its frantically edited and bloody fights showcased by its lush black and white cinematography. There’s lots of these rather longing close-ups, where the camera holds onto a character’s expressions to build on the drama or attempt to penetrate and explore the character’s motivations. It’s an intensity that Chen Hung-min flawlessly uses to help lean less on dialog and more on action in maintaining the rather brisk 90 minute runtime. Vengeance Of The Phoenix Sisters was a six fisted blast that subverts the formula just enough to put a fresh new spin on wuxia revenge.