The Ghost Hill Poster

10th Old School Kung Fu Festival: The Ghost Hill (1971) Review

The third film in the Tsai Ying-jie Trilogy, following The Swordsman of All Swordsmen and The Bravest Revenge, The Ghost Hill (Shi wan jin shan, 十萬金山) is about as far from the franchise’s starting point as it gets. There’s no contemplation on the nature of revenge here, just a near-endless series of battles, each more outrageous than the previous one.

Those fights start with Tsai Ying-jie (Tien Peng, Super Warrior, The Silver Spear) and Peng Jun-fung (David Tang Wei, A Man of Immortality, King of Snakes) squaring off in a duel to determine who is the rightful owner of the Purple Light Sword. Much to Peng’s surprise, the match is called in Tsai’is favour. When Peng protests, the grandmaster overseeing the contest invents instant replay and shows him all times Tsai could have killed or crippled him.

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However, they’re not the only ones who want the sword and King Jin (Hsueh Han, Heavenly Dragon and Earthly Tiger, The Killer Meteors) has his minions frame Peng for the theft of the sword and the murder of Tsai’s master (Lu-Shih Ku, All’s Well That Does Well, A City Called Dragon). Then they use it to kill Peng’s master Yun Chun-Chung, making it look like Tsai had finally gotten his revenge on the old man. This should result in a second fight between Tsai and Peng, better known as Black Dragon, this time to the death.

And it would have worked if Yun Chun-chung’s daughter Flying Swallow (Polly Ling-Feng Shang-Kuan, Green Dragon Inn, Fight for Survival) hadn’t interceded, forcing the real villains to reveal themselves. After that, there’s no other option than for the three of them to storm Jin’s fortress on Ghost Hill and fight their way through the 10 Chambers of Hell in a quest for revenge.

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Writer/director Ting Shan-Hsi (The Beheaded 1000, Blood Reincarnation) seems to be having a lot of fun with The Ghost Hill, especially with its villain. King Jin. With gold-coloured skin, a missing hand replaced by a spike metal mace that also fires darts, and a maniacal laugh, he’s a pretty memorable figure. Add his habit of tossing those who displease him into a vat of boiling oil, the same one he bathes in, along with his less than fatherly interest in his daughter (Han Hsiang-chin, The Romance in the Ghost House, The Fast Sword) and you have the historical version of a Bond villain.

And the film needs that because the heroes, while quite heroic, are also very bland. Thankfully, the Beggar’s Army that joins them for the final battle adds a bit of personality to things. As do scenes such as an unfortunate spearman encased in ice being slid into enemies and an early version of the Flying Guillotine, this is more like a giant pair of scissors on a chain taking heads off in a surprisingly convincing fashion.

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Give set designer Chen Shang-Lin (Rider of Revenge, A Touch of Zen) credit for making the inside of Ghost Hill such a visually stunning battleground and stunt coordinator Chen Shih-Wei (Zatoichi vs the Flying Guillotine, Chinese Kung Fu) credit for making the action as eye-catching as the setting. They both help the film punch well above its budget, which was considerably less than Shaw Brothers was spending on comparable films.

The Ghost Hill is a fun watch, and fans of the genre may notice a few plot elements that didn’t become popular until years later. It’s also a good choice to show to your friends who are curious about the genre.

The Ghost Hill is screening as part of this year’s Old School Kung Fu Fest put on by Metrograph and Subway Cinema In association with Taipei Cultural Center in New York, Ministry of Culture, Republic of China (Taiwan). You can get more information about the films here, and a full schedule here.

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