Director: Hsu Cheng Hung
Starring: Lo Lieh, Ching Li, Feng Tien, Cheng Wen Ching, Ho Ming-chung, Chang Yi, David Chiang
12 Deadly Coins tells the story of Qiao Mao (Lo Lieh), a poor but skilled student training and working under the famous Yu Jian Ping (Feng Tien), also known as 12 Deadly Coins for technique of throwing weapons. Qiao Mao is a filial and honest student and when he hears that the master’s arrogant son Yu Hua (Ho Ming-chung) is tasked to transport an important shipment of government money, he volunteers to assist in order to protect his master’s reputation. Hua takes this as an offense and ignores the more experienced Qiao’s advice. When the caravan is attacked by Yuan Cheng Li (Fang Mien) and his similarly trained disciples, they leave nearly all dead. As Qiao pursues the thieves, Hua and the few remaining disciples wrongly blame Qiao for the ambush and retreat to Master Yu with news of betrayal. As Yu heads out to find Qiao Mao and the stolen money he unknowingly is going towards an inevitable showdown with Yuan Cheng Li, a rival from the past. All the while Qiao keeps after the thieves and finds an unlikely ally in Yuan Yu-yung (Ching Li), the master thieves’ adopted daughter.
Swordplay film veteran Teng Hung Hsu directs this dark and bloody tale which is basically a family feud story set amidst the martial artist world of medieval China. Production is impressive with many outdoor sets and natural light for filming, it has a very distinct look that clearly sets it as an example of early Shaw Bros. as opposed to the more well know, in the West, films of the 70’s and 80’s. Costuming is good, with colorful and distinctive outfits for each important character and a variety of weapons which set each apart. The music is, as expected, classic, with cues and tones for dramatic and action scenes that get you into the film. It’s nothing new really, but the comfort level of having the Shaw Bros. music you know and love is always pretty high for this particular viewer.
Lo Lieh and Ching Li, as the leads, are both pretty solid. They play the film pretty seriously, with he as the honorable and upstanding student and swordsman and with she as the smitten but torn daughter of the enemy. This was pretty early in their film careers and they do have vibrancy and youth that is missing in their later movies. Film veterans Feng Tien and Fang Mien are good as the conflicting masters, and Ho Ming-chung is super unlikable as Hua, which serves it well since that’s the role he’s supposed to play.
The action is pretty diverse with characters using a variety of weapons and some really good wirework to help set the film in the wuxia genre. Action is bloody, with limbs and decapitations and the trademark spurts of blood. Tong Gai delivers again with interesting choreography and the insertion of drama into the action sequences. Of note is the cliché where ‘the older and more powerful you are, the less you need to move to be a badass.’ This is common, but it is always funny to see the young actors bouncing and flipping around while the older actors with more limited physical abilities lock swords and spin.
Having heard about but not seen 12 Deadly Coins before now, I have to say that it deserves a lot of the praise that goes with it. It is a solid swordplay film with a dark story and it quite nicely fit the heroic bloodshed mold, of which I am a huge fan. The somber nature of the film may turn off some viewers and that affect re-watchability a bit, but I’d recommend it as one of the best Shaw Bros. films in the 60’s, no question.
You may enjoy this film if you liked: Sword of Doom, Black Belt, Secret of the Dirk, 14 Amazons