Dragon Sword

A blind swordswoman in China seeks revenge on the cunning and deadly Manchu general who killed her parents.


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It's night. Dragon Gate is smoky with many cooking fires.




This reeking sprawl of clay tiled houses and bamboo shelters. Serpentine alleys. Filth strewn streets.




People live in these streets and fetid alleys, brawl in them, cook their meals, drink, and also sicken and stagger and die in them.




Edward makes his quick purposeful way through the patches of darkness and the sudden thrilling brightness of bonfires.




He pushes aside beggars, waves off child prostitutes.




When a group of men step in his way he touches the hilt of his sword with one hand, draws out his Kashmiri dagger with the other -- after eyeing him hard, the men melt aside.




He goes on, jumping over a pile of dog feces.




He's there. At the gate of Kut Habba's palace.




He strolls along the base of the wall. Glancing up, he sees the glittering fragments of broken glass embedded in the top.




He finds it, the bundle of bamboo poles leaning indolently against the wall of a shack.




Inside the shack, a toothless man -- not old, just gapingly toothless and wrinkled -- is smoking kif.




Edward snatches up one of the green bamboo poles. He tests it by putting one end to the dust and putting his weight on it. The pole has some "spring" to it.




He backs up in a narrow alley. His eyelids blink several times as he gauges distance. He breaks into frenzied motion, running at the wall, at first holding the pole horizontally extended, then --




He slams one end of the bamboo pole onto the packed earth. Almost magically, he rises into the dark air.






Edward, holding onto the pole, turns a somersault.




He lands staggering a little inside the dusty Kut Habba compound. Stops still, crouching, glancing at corners. It's a big courtyard, bare but for a broken down ox cart.




He leans the pole against the wall behind him.




Then Edward runs at a corner of the courtyard. Up above are lighted windows. He uses the angle of two walls to propel himself upward with soft slithering steps -- as high as the third story, where he grasps monkey like onto the railing of a projecting balcony.




It's a nice acrobatic trick.




He swings himself -- though it looks as if he is pouring himself -- over the railing onto the balcony, and skuttles along it on his hands and knees. Silent.




He stands, his back pressed to a wall, and bends a little to look through a gap in the wooden shutters. He sees --






Kut Habba, a grotesque naked fat man, is stretched on a platform bed, sweating, his mouth open, as a slave boy performs sexually on him.




A naked slave girl is perched by the bed, fanning vigorously with a palm frond.




Another naked slave girl is crouched next to Habba with a small jug of oil in one hand, and she is pouring a stream of the oil on his belly and rubbing it in with her other.




Nearby, a blind man twangs a banjo like instrument and sings a reedy ballad.






Outside, Edward draws his dagger.




He shuts his eyes.




Are his lips moving? Maybe he's saying a prayer for revenge.




This will be it.




The moment he's waited for since the fly-ridden, chaotic slave auction in Kabul.






As he touches the shutter to jerk it outward -- he appears ready to launch himself like a rocket into Kut Habba's bedchamber -- there is a slither of cloth and a figure garbed all in dark red, wearing a dark red hood exposing only the eyes, drops from the roof overhang onto the balcony.




It's clear by the way the tunic clings to the figure's body that it is a woman.




Even as her slippered feet thump onto the stones, two other women in the same ninja garb drop. Thud. Thud.




Edward's eyes go wide.




The first ninja to touch down attacks him with a lightning quick fist strike. Sticking out from between her knuckles are glittering points -- long needles.




These woman assassins wearing red silk are famed throughout China. They use poisoned needles to paralyze and kill.




Edward slaps away the fist before a needle touches him and sharply kicks in the woman's knee, which cracks like tinderwood. She moans and falls on her face.




The two other ninjas leap at him, one with a kick to the head that merely smashes a dent into the wall as he dodges, the other trying to stick those frightening needles into him.




Inside, Kut Habba throws off the slave boy, slaps aside the slave girl rubbing him with oil -- the jug falls, shatters  -- and snatches up a crossbow that stands beside the bed. He lumbers toward the window.




Edward throws himself over the railing and drops to the courtyard. He hits hard, rolling to his feet.








Edward glances back as the shutter bangs open. He sees, in blazing lamplight, the naked obese Kut Habba leveling a crossbow. He dodges as the barbed dart hisses out toward him.




The two assassins leap down after Edward.






He's running wildly for the wall. The ninjas, lithe and silent, are fast -- and gaining.




Edward whirls on them, whipping out his rapier. Clang. The ninjas parry with their long needles -- blue sparks fly.




Someone is banging on a gong. Voices. Shouts. A clatter of footsteps.




Edward, sweating, is fighting hard but the ninjas are as agile as monkeys. They leap, scurry, and slide.




He glances once, his lips tight, at the bamboo pole.




It's right behind him, but he doesn't dare to go for it.




Even if he did, the ninjas wouldn't give him the space to run at the wall.




Doomed. He knows it.






It's at this instant that we hear a whirring sound, and magically Blind Swordswoman Zu lands on the dusty packed earth between Edward and the two needle-wielding ninjas.




She's barefoot, bareheaded, the mass of black hair wild -- and her sword cane is bound to her shoulders by a length of frayed rope.




She's holding a bamboo pole like the one Edward used to vault the wall.




She's done the same. Blind.




As the ninjas dart at her, Zu sweps at them with the pole.




The bamboo whirs and strikes the ninjas hard, knocking their feet out from under them.




They tumble and roll like circus acrobats and come up poised to strike, the needles glittering in moonlight.




Edward, his eyes wide, rapidly sheathes his rapier and snatches up the other pole.




He joins Zu, attacking the ninjas with green bamboo poles.






The battle that ensues is oddly calm and quiet but for harsh breathing and the occasional ringing thunk of the bamboo on flesh.




Voices. Shouts. The clatter of footsteps and the clank of weapons is much closer now.




A crossbow dart zips past Zu's head.




Go! she shouts at Edward.




I will; after you.




Zu doesn't reply. By desperate attacks they've gained some space to run at the wall. She turns and snatches up a handful of dirt and pebbles, throws it at the clay wall -- the rattle tells her alert ears how much distance she has to spare.




It's enough. She sprints, plants an end of the pole on the earth, and springs over.




Dropping the pole in midair. Landing with a thump in the little alley.




A few instants later, Edward crashes down, reeling against the little shack -- causing the bamboo and straw roof to fall onto the man smoking a kif pipe. He screams. The oil lamp spills, hissing, and the straw catches fire.




Zu tries to lift the roof off the shrieking man.




No time. Haste, now, Edward cries; he grasps Zu by the elbow, twisting it hard --and together, they run.




You, the spectator, may have begun to feel that this Chinese movie has become trivial, and you are rapidly losing interest in the blind swordswoman and the mute boy, not to mention this so-called English rogue adventurer. You already know roughly but all too clearly how it will end. You know that both Zu and Edward will achieve their revenge, following a few twists and turns of the foolish plot. You forsee a darkest moment, a final despairing effort, and a stunning resolution. All this is there. Why read a book for a Hollywood plot?




Or do you feel that this movie has really only just begun, with the fascinating entry of a wolf-girl from the Northern Wastes, and what about blind Zu saving Edward's skin from the red silk garbed woman ninjas? Do you maybe feel that you have only just started to appreciate the dangers, the filth, the wildness, and the weird erotic beauty of this sprawling Western desert town of Dragon Gate? Then, too, even knowing Zu will prevail in the end via single combat against the wily and feral General Khang -- that's a given in any story such as this -- you can't be sure about what will happen to the Blue Eyed Devil and the mute boy. Isn't there a possibility that the last shot of this movie might be of Blind Swordswoman/Assassin Zu tenderly placing the tattered Dragon Cult sword manual into a grave in the wastelands where they boy lies mangled and still, before piling it high with rough stones?




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