Monday, February 9, 2009

Lin Dai and Han Yingjie


Movie queen Lin Dai and action choreographer Han Yingjie

While I don't count myself a Lin Dai fan, I've always been dying to see her one martial-arts film, The Swallow (1961). Directed by Yueh Feng and featuring fight choreography by Han Yingjie, it appears to have been an early attempt by Shaw Brothers to compete with the popular swordplay films that were being cranked out by the Cantonese industry at the time. Employing the same language that they used for the launch of their "Action Era" in 1965, Shaws promised audiences a superior, more realistic, martial-arts film.

Martial arts films of the past relied heavily on special effects to give the momentary thrill. Scenes of daggers being spat out of the mouth, hauling mountains and crushing waves and an array of invisibility powers such as disappearing into the earth, waters and fire were nothing more than cheap thrills.... 'The Swallow Thief' appeals to the audiences with its 'realism'... each move, block, throw, choke, and lock is broken down step by step.... In shunning the use of special effects, the cast has to master the martial arts to rise to the challenge in order to bring the real thing to the audience.

—extracted from the film brochure, translated in the HKFA online catalog




It's interesting to read that as early as 1961, Hong Kong filmmakers were already developing the foundations of the constructive editing — in this case, the breaking down of action into distinct and legible units — that would become one of the defining characteristics of Hong Kong action cinema. Besides making real martial-arts techniques look and feel more real, constructive editing also made fantastic feats, such as the "weightless leap", appear more real as well. The Swallow was a pioneering movie in this regard, as it was the first film to feature the use of trampolines in its action choreography. As Han Yingjie relates...

[I first used trampolines] when Griffin Yue Feng made 'The Swallow' in 1961. I was the double for Linda Lin Dai and experimented with a seven by five feet trampoline. I did a somersault, the camera followed with a vertical pan, and the 'weightless leap' was born!

—from the HKIFF catalog A Tribute to Action Choreographers




The other benefit of constructive editing is that — in combination with coaching the actors in basic martial-arts moves and stances — it helps reduce excessive stunt doubling and hopefully makes the doubling less obvious to the viewer as well. Anyway, here is a great article (894KB PDF) from Southern Screen No. 35 (January 1961) showing Lin Dai practicing her stances and sparring with Han Yingjie in preparation for her role in The Swallow.

BTW, although The Swallow was not among the Shaw films restored and released by Celestial Pictures — leading me to believe that it is missing from the Shaw library or perhaps too damaged for restoration — a print of the film was shown at the 1981 Hong Kong International Film Festival. It's not clear whether the Hong Kong Film Archive has a copy, since whatever Shaw Brother holdings they have are not publicly disclosed in their online catalog.

I'm hoping (but not holding my breath) that this pioneering martial-arts film will be seen once again some day.

11 comments:

Todd said...

"Scenes of daggers being spat out of the mouth, hauling mountains and crushing waves and an array of invisibility powers such as disappearing into the earth, waters and fire were nothing more than cheap thrills"

Thank you, Shaw Brothers. I obviously need to see more of these movies that you are trying to supplant with your own, ostensibly superior product.

Rally said...

Han Yingjie was actually a very good martial artist, when I did taichi with Fong Ha in Berk. back when, his teacher was Han Yingjie...a xingyi-style guy in real life.

duriandave said...

That's cool, Ral! Small world, isn't it!

Scott said...

Interesting. I read with interest the interview excerpt from 'A Tribute To Action Choreographers'. I've tried many times to order it but the site's system never works.

duriandave said...

Scott, it's too bad the book is so difficult to find. If I remember correctly, I ordered it from YesAsia, but they don't seem to be selling it anymore.

Regarding ordering through the HKIFF website, have you tried signing up as a CityLine member first, rather than just using the Non Member method?

I have ordered successfully from HKIFF, but it was many years ago, and I don't recall any stumbling blocks I might have encountered at the time.

Scott said...

Duriandave, I tried ordering it from them first without signing up to Cityline. They had no record of my order. I then signed up to Cityline and tried again. No luck, they had no record of it that time either. Very odd...

duriandave said...

Scott, I might be able to help you out. Send me an email at duriandave@gmail.com

Justin Choo said...

Hi Duriandave,

I remember watching this film. I was about 11 years old, I think. Never knew it was the first Shaw kungfu film. I still remember the opening scene which was a shocker when a figure in black suddenly appeared on the screen without any warning. I think I jumped from my seat! The theme song is very nice too. Searched the net and I think the title of the song is Dai Jia Gu Niang sung by Jing Ting.

duriandave said...

Lucky guy! I'm dying to watch this film. It's actually not Shaw's first martial-arts film. Two years earlier they made The Adventure of the Thirteenth Sister with Betty Loh Tih. Did you see that one too?

Justin Choo said...

Hi Duriandave,

Never heard of the film.

duriandave said...

Here's a summary of the film from a Betty Loh fansite.