When the prospect of digging into yet another Shaw Brothers box set came up, I have to say I was more than up for the task. This time from Shout Factory!, it’s the Shaw Brothers Classics series, which seems to focus on the more obscure and underrated titles in the Shaw catalog. Coming in at the second set, I thought I would tackle these reviews in the manner I’m viewing them 2 at time as double bills: While every film does have its own individual Blu-ray disc, they are cased as pairs. My first pairing proved a rather fun surprise.
Leading off this set are 1970’s Lady of Steel and Brothers Five, two films that came out shortly after King Hu’s 1966 wuxia classic Come Drink with Me, featuring many of the same stars of that film. Come Drink with Me is such an odd film in the Shaw Catalog because of its prestige leanings, and with these two films you get to see these great actors do more of the kind of films you expect from the studio, while delivering a similar caliber of performances as Drink.
LADY OF STEEL (1970)
Lady of Steel that reunites Yunzhong Li, Cheng Pei-pei and Yueh Hua from Come Drink with Me for a brutal Wuxia revenge-o-matic. Directed by Meng-Hua Ho (Black Magic) the film has Pei-pei playing a swordswoman who while on an errand for her master to deliver a letter, is framed as a traitor by the man who murdered her family when she was a child. She then must team up with Yueh Hua to clear her name and expose the plot and kill the man responsible to get revenge for her family. It’s a lot, but at 90 minutes the film is a strong start to the set.
While a more traditional Wuxia entry than Drink, Lady of Steel is still a brisk battler that is worth your time. The film appears a bit rougher around the edges, but that might have been due to rushing it out to capitalize on the success of their previous team up. The chemistry between Cheng Pei-pei and Yueh Hua is always a treat and Yunzhong Li always makes a great heavy here. He reminds me of a Chinese Ernest Borgnine and like Borgnine is likable even as a bad guy, and memorable here as a charming ne’er do well.
BROTHERS FIVE (1970)
Paired with Lady of Steel is a bloody beat’em up, Brothers Five by Wei Lo (Fist of Fury and The Big Boss), which also stars Yunzhong Li, Cheng Pei-pei and Yueh Hua also from 1970, which makes this another attempt to cash in on Drink. This time Cheng Pei-pei plays Lady Yen who is on a mission from her recently deceased father to gather five brothers of her father’s best friend who was killed and his grand palace stolen by a bandit lord. In order to hide the brothers they were spread to five different families to give them all a different specialty when fighting. Strangely enough the brothers who were all raised into righteous warriors to have their own reasons for landing on the doorstep of their former palace that has become a well known haven of villainy.
The key thing Brothers Five gets right is what the Venom Mob films always seemed to struggle with, is how it deals with these five personalities, while giving them all a satisfying story, keeping the characters all distinct enough to follow. Wei Lo effortlessly weaves the stories of the five brothers together in a way that makes sense. Cheng Pei-pei is clearly the standout here as the orchestrator of the plan, and the one who keeps the ball rolling. She even gives the brothers a Kung-Fu manual that will give them an unbeatable fighting style called “Uniting the Five Tigers”. As ridiculous as this was, it involved all five brothers uniting into a configuration on top of one another shoulders and spinning around, like a human Voltron. I gave the ridiculousness of it a full out pass because the build up just worked and it was so over the top.