Movie Review -- Full Moon Scimitar

Well, what did you expect?

Full Moon Scimitar is one of the eighteen films that Shaw Brothers director Chu Yuan adapted from the novels of Gu Long over the course of about six years. Made in 1979, it stars Derek Yee (billed as Erh Tu-Sheng) instead of Ti Lung, who was very often the lead in Chu Yuan/Gu Long films at Shaw Bros. It's not one of the stronger films in the series, but that should be expected since Chu had already made at least twelve films of varying quality. Do the math: that's four Gu Long films per year, in addition to other projects, including a two part adaptation of Jin Yong's Heaven Sword and Dragon Saber the previous year. It's a testament to Chu's formula that any of these films display any signs of quality at all, and yet, most of them do, if only in small quantities.

And to be honest, Full Moon Scimitar is one of the more disappointing films for many of us not because it's a particularly worse film than, say, Death Duel (1977), but because of its very particular lack of availability. It was one of the last Chu Yuan films released on dvd by Celestial pictures, but it was one of the first titles that caught my attention when I started looking for films to watch on my newly acquired region-free dvd player. The first three films that I bought were Magic Blade (Chu Yuan, 1976), Martial Arts of Shaolin (Lau Kar-Leung, 1986), and Buddha's Palm (Taylor Wong 1982), and while reading various forums, I found a few mentions of Full Moon Scimitar as well as a poster and lobby card images. The mere image of the scimitar, a crescent moon shaped blade that folds out to make an S-shaped weapon gripped in its center, sent my imagination flying with possibilities for fight choreography. And with Chu Yuan as director, I knew it would have all sorts of weirdly colored lighting schemes and plenty of convoluted plot twists.

Hence, I had built this movie up to a point that it had no chance of meeting my expectations. The same thing happened with Life Gamble, which is actually pretty decent, and would have happened with Clan Feuds had I not already learned my lesson.

Full Moon Scimitar tells the story of Ding Peng (Derek Yee) an aspiring swordsman who gains enough fame to fight a duel with Liu Ruo Song (Wong Yung), who uses his wife's charms to steal Ding Peng's sword manual and defeat him in their duel. Humiliated, Ding Peng takes off, running into Qing Qing (Lisa Wong), a fox spirit whose clan holds the titular Full Moon Scimitar, which Ding uses, along with some trickery that's even more underhanded than what Ruo Song used on him, to defeat Liu Ruo Song in a rematch and then take up a position as head of the martial world, earning the ire of practically every major clan chief or notable swordsman, alienating Qing Qing in the process.

Like many other Gu Long adaptations, the theme of the corruptibility of power gets hammered home in no uncertain terms. That makes Derek Yee's character an unlikable jerk, and all of the characters with only a few exceptions despicable. The "righteous" clan leaders frequently resort to treachery in order to get their way, and their corruptibility extends to protection for members or relatives of their own rank. Their victims, generally speaking, actually deserve the pain inflicted on them, although pretty much everyone in need of punishment gets it by the end of the film. So much like Magic Blade, The Sentimental Swordsman, and Death Duel, the film presents a sadly treacherous, tragic version of the martial world. It must be mentioned though, that a twist in the plot towards the end of the film confuses some of the earlier events in the plot, since it eliminates the justification for certain unlikely supernatural happenings, all of which are filmed in Chu Yuan's usual method, using lots of wide angles and "spooky" green lighting.

But Full Moon Scimitar, for all its formulaic elements and (retroactive) lack of clarity, has some undeniably appealing things going for it. Among Chu's films, I think this one has some of the most consistently good fight scenes. Action director Tong Gaai worked very often on these films, and in some of those others his choreography seems workmanlike, if not bored. The fight scenes here bare lots of his trademarks, like extensive stunt doubling, weird weapons, formation fighting, and acrobatic, dance like choreography. Yueh Hua, Wang Lung Wei, and Norman Chu all have memorable parts, with Yueh Hua stealing every scene he's in as a master swordsman with no need for a sword. And certainly, the number of attractive women filling out the cast doesn't hurt the film one bit.

There's not much to quibble about with the "message" either. One can seemingly never remind the world enough of people's inability to resist temptation.

The only thing that actually disappoints about this movie is that it isn't the mind-blowing spectacle for which I hoped. Full Moon Scimitar won't win any new fans for Chu Yuan's brand of films, and in the end it it's a formula film: one of eighteen. Why were so many of these films made in such a limited amout of time anyways? These films were being churned out before the emergence of home video, produced at such a rate that there would always be one ready to premeir as the previous Chu Yuan/Gu Long film was making its way out of theaters. They form something like a serial without continuity (or continence, some would likely say) but with an incongruous amount of effort when compared to most serials, or much of what was being produced for television.

Full Moon Scimitar gives you what you ought to expect. It can't really be faulted for that.

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