Scripted by Shiao Yi, The Ringing Sword (1969) is an early example of female led Wuxia films; it also provides a glimpse of the writing style that Shiao Yi would eventually be known for.
The movie's villain, corrupt eunuch Tsao Tan, plans to kill the opposing Chiang family’s sole survivor, Chiang Jen Chieh (Kong Ban). The mysterious title character that wields the Ringing Swords, Yeh Chiu Lu (Fan Ling), and masked warrior Yeh Hung Bin (Huang Chun) are the only ones who can help Chiang Jen Chieh. I won't spoil more, as there are a great many secrets that you'll uncover through the course of the movie.
After watching this film twice, it is evident to me that the plot and the characters are meant to be more developed than what is portrayed on-screen. While audiences can certainly understand the general direction of the plot, there are still a couple of questions that are left unanswered at the end of the film. The development of the aforementioned characters’ is seemingly cut short; this leaves audiences wanting to better understand them, but I believe it should have reached a better resolution within this film. This is probably due to the time constraint of the movie itself (it runs at 88 minutes and Wuxia films during the 1960s were usually no longer than 90 minutes).
While the Wuxia films created by Hong Kong’s Shaw Bros. are usually filmed on beautiful sound stages, Taiwanese Wuxia films like The Ringing Sword are shot on-location. It’s a nice departure, and allows audiences to appreciate the natural scenery of Taiwan. It also grounds the world of Jiang Hu in reality, since it looks like a world that people can actually visit. Finally, it allows the fight scenes to get more creative due to the open space allowing the titular Ringing Swords to fly around.
Shiao Yi has many works that evolved over time, and The Ringing Sword features a couple of traits that would be seen in his later works. Yeh Chiu Lu’s first appearance echoes that of the title character of Sister Gan Nineteen (which is being adapted into Assassin G). Family secrets are another shared trait as well, but saying any more than that would spoil the movie!
The Ringing Sword is now available to watch on YouTube through the Wu Tang Collection channel. Watch it to see the beginning of Shiao Yi’s scripted movies and how it influences his later works.