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O (1969)
Have Sword, Will Travel

Reviewed by: ewaffle
Date: 05/06/2011
Summary: A well made classic

Among them Ti Lung, Cheng Cheh and David Chiang made the amazing total of 28 films for Shaw Brothers between 1969 and 1976. While "Have Sword, Will Travel" was an early effort by the three, Shaws clearly had a winning combination to fill the screens of their Cantonese theaters. The story fit like a pair of well-worn shoes—a hoard of silver was to be delivered to the Emperor. The route crossed a bandit filled wasteland but the royal courier was a fierce and experienced military bureaucrat Lord Yin, backed by a battalion of fearless fighters.

Word is out, though, that Lord Yin might be past it—that the wily veteran may be feeling his age. If so the upcoming trip will be the best chance to ambush the caravan and steal the silver before a younger, more energetic replacement is named. Siang is an exceptionally skilled martial artist who, like many of his kind, seems to have no real home but is comfortable on the road. He is betrothed to Yun Piao Piao who chastely accompanies him. She is no slouch in the killing department although less adept than the boys as is the custom in these films. Lo Yi is an ambiguous character—deadly, charismatic, even more of a loner than the typical martial arts hero of the time. He may want to steal the silver, he may just be passing through, he may be loyal to Lord Yin—no one knows. What is known is that he has a smoldering look and a devil may care attitude that Yun Piao Piao finds compelling attractive. Lo Yi is a classic outsider, a movie bad boy whose aloofness acts as an aphrodisiac to some women.

It turns out that the rumors about Lord Yin are true; he is even worse off than feared, having lost his kung fu ability months previously and now barely able to wield a sword. He has kept his infirmity from almost everyone but wisely fears spies from feared bandits gang the Flying Tigers, especially the well-named Pestilence. He is a formidable spy, one who can listen from the rafters or infiltrate the palace guard without being discovered. Pestilence is sent to spy on a council of war with Lord Yin and Siang, a meeting that Lo Yi stumbles upon. Thinking he is a spy from the Flying Tigers, Siang invites him to the dinner table where the two of them engage in some very well done fights using chopsticks in place of weapons. Even after being accepting their hospitality (and chomping his way through most of a dinner for four—he has been on the road a long time) Lo Yi is unable to prove he isn’t a spy. But then the real spy, Pestilence is seen and almost captured confirming that Lo Yi is who he says he is--a wandering swordsman. Pestilence escapes and Lord Yin knows that the enemy is aware of his weakness.

By now Yun Piao Piao is infatuated with Lo Yi although still loyal to her fiancé and their adopted mission of delivering the royal silver. Aware of his fighting prowess she convinces a most reluctant Siang that he is necessary as part of the escort. This ends what is essentially the first chapter of the movie. It has been full of loyalty and betrayal, plotting and counterplotting, love and renunciation; however there hasn’t been much action. Then the escort sets off with the silver, heading into bandit country, and there is nothing but action for the last thirty minutes.

Swordplay and the thick red blood that was one of the characteristics of Shaw Brothers at the time are almost constant. There is a lot of well choreographed and executed trampoline and wire work with fighters leaping at each other to battle in midair. Much of the action takes place in and around the bandits’ base, a looming tower that dominates the only road to the capital. Siang is unwilling to let Lo Yi help him in his unequal battle against all of the Flying Tiger soldiers--Lord Yin’s men having been dispatched by arrows and spears from the tower—as well as two all but invincible fighters. Lo Yi deals with this by jumping into the tower and, like Siang, slaughter bandits by the score with one slash of his sword. There are a lot of bandits and even efficient killing machines like these take a while to mow all of them down. Lo Yi is wounded several times when he finally faces off against the mute bandit who hacks and skewers him before being killed. The righteous kung fu practices of our heroes allow them to survive blows that would be fatal to ordinary fighters.

This points to the theme that runs through “Have Sword Will Travel”, that being on the right side of the law--or being a servant of the ruling class, as you will—gives on additional physical/psychic powers to defeat enemies that seem stronger, better armed and more organized. It is to the credit of Chang Cheh, cinematographer Kung Mu-To and editor Chiang Hsing-Lung as well as the actors that the audience accepts this fantasy since the action is so enthralling and believable.

Reviewer Score: 8

Reviewed by: Chungking_Cash
Date: 04/01/2007

Though the English title is nothing more than a tongue-in-cheek nod to an Old West television series that ran in the '50s and '60s, "Have Sword, Will Travel" nonetheless borrows effortlessly from the Western genre (there's plenty of horses, a wanderer, a cache of silver at stake, and the film even ends on a sunset).

Reviewer Score: 8

Reviewed by: cal42
Date: 04/30/2006
Summary: Have Sword, Will Die Horribly...

Engaged couple Siang and Yun Piao Piao (Ti Lung and Li Ching) help an aging and thoroughly knackered Kung Fu master transport some silver. However, lone swordsman Yo Li (David Chiang) inadvertently gets involved.

This is another early example of a Shaw Brothers film where the first hour or so is pretty actionless – a deliberate attempt to give the final reel more emotional impact. While most of the early part of the film is preamble, it does set up the love triangle that is created when Piao Piao takes a shine to Yo Li - much to Siang’s annoyance. Also, the scene where Yo Li is forced to sell his horse is surprisingly moving.

The final half an hour is a brilliant showcase set in a magnificent old tower. The setting imposes some great atmosphere, although it has to be said that the frequent switches between exterior and studio shots is not particularly effective and are quite obvious. The swordplay here is extremely impressive for its day, and the usual buckets of blood are employed to great use. I’m sure Freud would have had something to say about all the ejaculations of blood on show here! Add to that the obvious needle between Siang and Yo Li, and it makes for quite an intriguing finale. Will Siang relent and let Yo Li help him when faced with insurmountable odds in the tower? Who will finally walk off with Yun Piao Piao?

Like the reviewers below have stated, this was clearly a major influence on the new-wave of HK swordplay films such as Crouching Tiger, Flying Daggers et al. But with all the fancy CG and high production values, the new crop of HK swordplay films aren’t particularly better than the originals. Those that look down all HK films (except those embraced by Hollywood as being “not just a chop-socky but with an actual STORY”) would do well to check this out.

Reviewer Score: 9

Reviewed by: Gaijin84
Date: 01/28/2006
Summary: Very good Chang Cheh wuxia film...

Chang Cheh's classic wuxia film Have Sword, Will Travel centers on the transport of a cache of silver. Lord In (Ching Miao) has always been entrusted with this task, but in his waning years, his kung fu is not what it used to be. Realizing this, In hires a pair of trustworthy students from a famous martial arts schools. Siang (Ti Lung) and Piau-piau (Li Ching) are a brother and sister in-laws that are well versed in sword play and throwing knives. After a brazen attempt to assassinate him, Lord In comes into the knowledge that a local gang of thugs called the Flying Tigers are planning on stealing the shipment. To make matters worse they have a couple of nearly invincible fighters, and the road that they must travel goes right by a large tower they use as their home base. Siang decides to find Yi Lo (David Chiang), a homeless, formidable fighter he had encountered earlier, in hopes to recruit him to help their cause. Complications arise when Piau-piau begins to have feelings for Yi Lo, straining her relationship with Siang, who was already in love with her and was asking for her hand in marriage.

Have Sword, Will Travel is an excellent film that shows Chang Cheh near the top of his game in the wuxia genre. Both Ti Lung and David Chiang are fantastic as rival swordsmen working for the same cause but also vying for the same woman. It is obvious why Cheh used these two in so many of his movies, as their on-screen personas play so well off of each other. Tons of trademark Shaw Brothers bright red blood is used to highlight the many battle scenes, which delve into the stylistic side of choreography. In one of the more drawn out fights Yi Lo and one of the Flying Tigers, the mute Ghost Shadow (Wang Chung), jump in great, leaping bounds from tree-tops to hillsides all while executing crisp and slashing sword strikes. It is interesting to see a more modern variation of this in Ang Lee's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. One of the more interesting elements of wuxia films is the ability of the most skilled fighters to have overcome the law of gravity, allowing them to fly short distances or battle in mid-air. This film has great examples of Cheh's desire to show this ability.

Reviewer Score: 7

Reviewed by: MrBooth
Date: 01/17/2006
Summary: 8/10

Chang Cheh in a more typically wu-xia mode appeals to me far more than his later films, and I liked this a lot. Echoes of Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon.

Reviewer Score: 8

Reviewed by: mpongpun
Date: 07/22/2003

Each time I watch this flick, I always think of the old Western that I used to watch re-runs of called HAVE GUN, WILL TRAVEL. Hey, that Western even had Lisa Lu in it and if you follow any of her works, she also starred in a few Shaw Brother flicks such as EMPRESS DOWAGER and the LAST TEMPEST. Maybe Chang Cheh got his inspiration from this Western serial. Who knows? Like the gunslinger in HGWT named Paladin, David Chiang’s character, Yi Lo, finds himself helping out some folks in dire need.
A group of known outlaws called the Flying Tigers have their mind and thoughts on a load of Government Imperial Silver, all 200,000 pieces of them. A famous Escort service, led by Lord Yin (Ching Miao), is commissioned by the Government to take the silver to the Capital. Lord Yin feeling that his best days are behind him, seeks out additional help in Dart Master Siang (Ti Lung) and his girlfriend, Piao Piao (Li Ching). The whole trip ends up in a disaster with Siang and Piao Piao fighting for their lives against the Flying Tigers. Yi Lo, a poor man, who wanders the lands with nowhere to stay, nothing to lose, and nothing to fight for—except for maybe Piao Piao’s love, finds himself putting his neck on the line in a death match with the Flying Tiger’s leader, Jiao Hung (Ku Feng). This flick wasn’t too bad and I did notice that the sword fights were much better, better then the stop, look, pose, and then fight choreography of the films of the time (see DRAGON GAT INN for example). The visuals for the film were beautiful and you’ll even get to see some slo-mo action and a cool end fight in a tower/pagoda that looks to be re-used in TOWER OF DEATH.