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.