Temple Of The Red Lotus (1965)
Well, a while ago I made the claim in my review for Come Drink With Me that "this is where it all started". It turns out I have to take that back, 'cause 1 year before COME DRINK WITH ME was TEMPLE OF THE RED LOTUS... and "it" all seems pretty well in place here
Jimmy Wang Yu has the starring role, as a young kid who heads off to Dragon Valley to meet the childhood friend who was promised as his bride. When he gets there, he finds that the family of the bride might not be an entirely honest bunch of people though. What is the story behind their feud with the monks at the Temple Of The Red Lotus, for a start?
The movie is a luscious period drama featuring a strong story and excellent performances from the entire cast, especially young Jimmy in his star-making role, and the gorgeous Chin Ping as his bride. The sets and costumes are as sumptuous as any Shaw Brothers period piece, and its all beautifully filmed. TEMPLE OF THE RED LOTUS has a truly compelling plot, full of drama and emotion, and a nicely developed intrigue. Unlike many other swordplay movies, there is never any trouble following the plot and the cast of characters are all easy to keep track of. The script is very tight, and more solid and professional than most HK movies.
Most surprising to me though are the action sequences, featuring exciting and dynamic swordplay choreography that's filmed just as well as anything in COME DRINK WITH ME. In fact, though King Hu definitely introduced some dramatic style of his own, I'd go so far as to say that TEMPLE OF THE RED LOTUS actually has better action than his seminal work... or indeed any other 60's film I've seen so far.
So, is this where "it" started? Apparently, it is. I don't even know who was responsible for the action direction here, though Tang Chia and Lau Kar-Leung are listed as extras at HKMDB, so it would seem quite possible that this is some very early work from those legendary choreographers. If that's the case though, I don't know why it's so much better than their work a year later in The Jade Bow. Yuen Wo-Ping is also listed as an extra, but surely he was much too young to be action director at that point.
Looking at the movie it's hard to believe it was made in 1965, as it stands up easily to pretty much any swordplay of the 60's or 70's (or any time). I've never even heard of director Hsu Tseng-Hung before, and HKMDB only lists 15-20 movies for him. I hope that this beautifully remastered Celestial DVD will help to make his name as well known amongst the fans in the west as equally visionary peers King Hu and Chang Cheh. I am especially looking forward to the two sequels, THE TWIN SWORDS and The Sword And The Lute.