“The Young Avenger” is another in the never-ending line of Shaw Brothers’ re-releases, this time from back in 1972. The film was one of the final efforts of director Yueh Feng, a veteran with a career spanning more than forty years and dozens of films, including the likes of “The Magnificent Swordsman” and the 1964 version of the Mu Lan story, “The Lady General”. Probably as a result, “The Young Avenger” sees the director combining many of the classic elements of the traditional period martial arts film, though thankfully it manages to avoid feeling overly familiar, largely due to tight handling and a memorable and entertaining set of characters.
The plot probably doesn’t require much of an introduction, being yet another in the time-honoured blood debt mould, as can be guessed from the title. The young avenger in question (played by actress Shih Szu, who starred in a great many films for the studio, including the Hammer collaboration “The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires”) is a swordswoman out to tackle a loathsome hunchback who killed her father after he refused to pass on the secrets of his famed ‘poisonous dragon sword’ style. As expected, the girl heads off for training under her uncle the mad monk, before a final act cast reunion in a small village which sees most of them die in suitably blood and overwrought fashion.
The real strength of “The Young Avenger” is its bright, brisk nature and the director’s refusal to allow things to get bogged down with exposition or awkward attempts to needlessly play around with what is a tried and tested formula. Although it may sound somewhat odd to praise a film for what essentially amounts to a basic lack of originality, the truth is that the genre is one where success is to a large extent in the details and execution rather than innovation. On this level, the film scores well, being a great deal of fun, featuring characters who spend most of the running time with their heads thrown back in laughter, plenty of blood and honour, and even a couple of songs.
Although the central character is female, this actually counts for very little, as there is only the slightest hint of romance in the film. Although this element of the film does make for a couple of amusing scenes, with the brash and bold swordswoman (who most of the cast inexplicably seem to mistake for a man, despite her complete lack of any attempt at disguise) shouting wide-eyed one second, then starring bashfully at the floor the next. The evil hunchbacked villain is similarly amusing, with his deformity (which suspiciously resembles a cushion stuffed under his shirt) never stopping him from leaping around and slinging his huge sword with the best of them.
It certainly helps that Yueh Feng’s direction is above average for the studio, with plenty of fluid camerawork and some good use of the usual sets which are recognisable from dozens of other films. He keeps the film moving at a good pace, and wisely sticks to a commendable brief running time of less than an hour and a half. There is plenty of action, the best of which occurs during the final act when the hunchback and his minions raid the village, resulting in a variety of bloody mass brawls, honour-bound duels, and women catching some of the less intelligent bandits in traps then beating them to death with gardening implements.
Whilst “The Young Avenger” is probably not the best starting point for viewers new to films by the Shaw Brothers, it is certainly an above average release. Making the most of the cliché and well worn situations found within the film, the director produces a work of considerable energy and fun which is likely to be enjoyed by all fans of martial arts cinema.
Feng Yuek (director)
CAST: Shen Chan …. Mad Monk
Mui Sang Fan