The Crimson Charm/The Shadow Whip - Blu-ray Review

Michael Scott

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Apr 4, 2017
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The Crimson Charm/The Shadow Whip

Movie: :3.5stars:
Video: :4.5stars:
Audio: :4stars:
Extras: :2stars:
Final Score: :3.5stars:

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Shout Factory has been on a mission to release a ton of the old classic Kung-Fu movies with regards to Jackie Chan and Sonny Chiba as of late, but one of their biggest (and latest) undertakings has been to release massive 11-12 disc sets of the classic 1960s and 1970s Shaw Brothers classic films. Highly coveted and incredibly hard to get all of them outside of expensive imports, we get a lovely set of 12 films in this second box set (sadly we weren’t able to review the 1st boxset, but I can fully attest that it was just as great as this one as I bought it personally) that covers a six year period for the Celestial Pictures produced films. Next we have another pair of never released on Blu-ray Shaw Brothers films in the form of 1971s The Crimson Charm and The Shadow Whip.

The Crimson Charm: :4stars:
The early 1970s was a turning point for Shaw Brothers house films. Up until this point they basically made the same film plot over and over again (mostly revenge flicks), just changing up the names and the fight scenes. This worked quite well for them over the years, but by 1970 the genre was going stale, and directors were starting to branch out a bit. Films started getting more complex, and directors demanded more from their actors. Choreography was getting more fine tuned, and instead of just the classic “tragic heroes banding together to take on a corrupt official”, we started getting more nuanced characters and better fight scenes over all. The Crimson Charm was sort of an experimental work, still using many of the old 1960s revenge story tropes, but going less philosophical and using more brutal violence in what would become the Shaw Brothers swashbuckling age of film making.

The story is simple enough, but still daring enough to be “dangerous” for the time period. A father and daughter stop at an Inn for the night are are comfortably enjoying a meal when a group of criminals come in and mistake them for another father and daughter who has wronged them. Murdering the father and trying to assault the daughter when the real targets step out of the shadows to defend the mistaken identity duo. Turns out that the criminals are the Crimson Charm gang and the bandit leader, who they end up killing, happens to be the son of the Crimson Charm gang’s leader.

The gang comes back later and slaughters everyone in sight, but end up not being as careful as they thought they were, leaving 3 survivors behind who swear vengeance on the brutal gang. Each of the three main characters who survived the massacre have their own story, their own back story, and different fighting techniques that when used together means that they are going to open up a can of butt kicking on the enigmatic (and mystical) head of the Crimson Charm gang.

The story itself is paper thin, but decides to forego a lot of the philosophical mumbo jumbo that Shaw Brothers films were known for, and instead take a straight forward approach to training and taking vengeance on the man who left them barely alive. But the real joy is watching the training montages for the film. Each character has a unique way of training, and a unique flavor to the trio, with Chang Yi using the classic “train in the woods with an aging master” motif, while Shih Zhu who trains with a blood master after being poisoned, and finally Ivy Ling Po who had her arm chopped off by the gang and has to learn sword fighting one handed. The characters have straight forward methods, but giving them these individual colors and textures makes them stand out from your typical Wuxia characters that were common in the day.

Huang Feng directs and co-writes the screen play rather smartly, interspersing some really creative fight scenes in with the brutal vengeance. Instead of your typical sword swipes and spear thrusts, he utilizes decapitations and impaling, making it a brutal, yet wildly entertaining flick for us to enjoy. While it’s not THE best of the 1970s Shaw Brothers film, I really enjoyed the film and find it one of the more under rated of the Shaw Brothers films.
lightweight watching for Shaw Brothers fans.

The Shadow Whip: :3.5stars:
1971’s The Shadow Whip was director Wei Lo’s last movie before he worked with Bruce Lee in Fist of Fury, and also one of the last films of the early 70s that followed the traditional Shaw Brothers tropes and motifs. He was never the greatest director on earth, but his work with Bruce Lee and Pei-Pei Cheng sort of immortalized him in the history books, and sadly this is one of his weaker entries. Best described as a paper thin film with just enough plot strung together to jump us from action scene to action scene, it serves as an action junkies guilty pleasure. We get to see Pei-Pei back in action once again (wearing what looks like a female Santa Clause outfit) wielding a whip instead of a sword, and some much improved fight choreography than what we saw with her in Brothers Five.

Yung (Pei-Pei) lives with her Uncle Fang (Ku Feng) in a reclusive state. Feng has been living in solitude to cover up some sins of the past, and his niece holds him in the highest respect. However, when Yung goes in to town and kicks the butts of some local martial artists who end up following her home back to Feng, she inadvertently kicks off a chain of events that puts her uncle into the lime light as a supposed Bandit known as “The Shadow Whip” who robbed a rich family of their jewelry some years ago and subsequently vanished. As usual there is the typical double crosses that everyone sees a mile away, but that’s not really much to sink your teeth into. Really we’re just hear to watch Pei-Pei and Uncle Fang kick some butt as every bounty hunter and bandit in the vicinity descends upon them to take the 300,000 worth of jewelry for themselves that The Shadow Whip supposedly stole.

The plot can best be described as “barely functional”, with each story revelation put in place only to push the next action sequence, and honestly, I don’t really mind. This is the type of gonzo action film that you love to just sit back and and watch the carnage unfold without being encumbered by plot, or logic. However, I must say that I was really impressed by the choreography and weapons chosen for the action scenes. Said choreography is leagues better than what we’ve seen in the past, with much quicker fights that don’t feel stilted and overly processed. Pei-Pei using the whip is a nice change of pace over her normal choice of sword, and the fast paced wire work makes for some engaging fights. The end battle with the main villain (not to spoil the villain’s identity) is probably the highlight of the film, with fast blade work and a “three against one” style of tag team battle that makes for probably the most engaging fight in the entire film.


Not Rated by the MPAA

Video: :4.5stars:
The Crimson Charm: :4.5stars:
The Crimson Charm looks REALLY good on Blu-ray. Again, I’m not sure WHEN the master was struck for the film, but Celestial has been carefully remastering all of their Shaw Brothers films over the last few years and it looks like this was struck from a fairly recent master before being encoded by Shout Factory for this set. Colors are incredibly bright and vibrant, especially Chang Yi’s forest training in the snow montage. Blacks are deep and inky and I didn’t detect the banding and crush in low light shots that we saw with the previous two films. Grain is a bit light so I still wondering if any noise reduction is going on with these new masters, but other than that this is a fantastic looking encode with minimal print smudges and a very cleaned up look to it.

The Shadow Whip: :4.5stars:
The Shadow Whip is a very close second to The Crimson Charm, with a wonderfully crisp and clear image that just pops off the screen. Colors are warm and bright (thought I noticed there was a cooler tone to this film), with string primaries (always with the red/orange corn syrup blood of the day) and great black levels. I noticed some minor washed out black levels in a few dimly lit scenes, otherwise this still is quite the looker. More grain than The Crimson Charm, but still so clean looking that I swear some digital noise reduction was done on the master end of things. A wonderful looking film though.

Audio: :4stars:
The Crimson Charm: :4stars:
The 2.0 Dual Mono mix in Mandarin sounds really nice, with strong vocals and great sound effects for the fight scenes. There’s a little hiss on the back end of the dialog throughout, but it’s not overly sharp and raspy like some other films of the day. However, there was a weird anomaly that seems to have been a recording issue that really stands out. The dialog and sound effects are really clean and clear, but every time a fight sequence starts it sounds like they were recording in an echoey hallway. It’s not super duper annoying, but it’s very distinctive when the fight starts. Blade effects and impacts and dialog all sound echoey the second a fight sequence kicks in, and then goes back to normal after it ends.

The Shadow Whip: :4stars:
The Shadow Whip is really on par with the previous 3 films reviewed in terms of score. It’s a perfectly fine sound Mono mix with good dialog, great sound effects, and that over used Spaghetti Western ripped off score that was so common in the Shaw Brothers films (it’s a well known fact that most of those of those generic scores were passed around like joint in those times, with almost no shame whatsoever). Dialog has a bit of a hiss on the back end, but nothing wild, and the effects are all crystal clear. Solid work.

Extras: :2stars:
The Crimson Charm
• NEW Audio Commentary With Film Historian Brian Bankston (Cool Cinema Blog)
• Celestial Trailer
• Original Theatrical Trailer

The Shadow Whip
• NEW Audio Commentary With David West, Critic And Author Of Chasing Dragons: An Introduction To The Martial Arts Film
• Celestial Trailer

Final Score: :3.5stars:

With the volume of films that Shaw Brothers were pumping out in the late 60s to early 70s it’s not hard to see why they were not smash hits. Or at least stand out films in the world of Kung-fu. I like The Crimson Charm a lot more than others did, but they’re still two of the more forgettable films in the box set. As usual, the new encodes by Shout Factory look utterly fantastic, and it’s great to see them hit Blu-ray for the first time (well, The Shadow Whip was released over in Germany 5-7 years ago if memory serves me correctly, but no where else is there a copy in HD). Definitely a fun watch though.

(as this is a single release from the massive boxset, our "buy now" links will go directly to the boxset and not an individual release)

Technical Specifications:

Starring: Pei-Pei Cheng, Yi Chang, Ivy Ling Po, Mien Fang, Hua Yueh, Li-Jen Ho, Sammo Hung
Directed by: Feng Huang / Wei Lo
Written by: Ching-Yun Chu-Ko, Feng Huang / Kuang Ni, Wei Lo
Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1 AVC (both)
Audio: Mandarin: DTS-HD MA 2.0 Mono
Subtitles: English
Studio: Shout Factory
Rated: NR
Runtime: 100 minutes / 78 minutes
Blu-Ray Release Date: August 15th, 2023

Recommendation: Good Watch

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