Dance of Death [1969]

Something of a curiosity from the earlier days of the Hong Kong film industry, Dance of Death stars Angela Mao as Fei Fei, an orphan boy (the publicity blurb says she's a girl disguised as a boy, but since her femininity is never revealed in the entire movie, it seems simpler to say she's playing a boy) who seeks revenge upon a villainous kung fu sect that killed his friends. He chances upon two old kung fu masters who are fighting to determine who's the better fighter; one is a drunk, the other puffs constantly on a pipe. Fei Fei convinces them to teach him kung fu, and then he'll fight using both of their techniques and will discover which is superior. So Fei Fei ends up fighting his way up the ranks of the evil sect with the two old men trailing after him, evaluating the battles and counting how many of their individual moves Fei Fei uses. The movie is more of a broad comedy than an action film; the fights are so obviously choreographed that they're more like acrobatic displays than vicious brawls. But Mao herself is extremely charming, and the theatricality of the physical feats doesn't make them less impressive. The final battle with the white-haired master of the sect, using new kung fu moves inspired by dancers in a brothel, is amazingly gymnastic. --Bret Fetzer

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