13 Nuns Fight back… in Deadly 3-D!
DIRECTED BY MEI-CHUN CHANG/MANDARIN, CANTONESE/1977
BLU-RAY STREET DATE: DECEMBER 14, 2021/KL STUDIO CLASSICS
Although this one’s ultimately no great shakes, in this day and age, it is conceivable that one might take the high road with Revenge of the Shogun Women, finding serious subtext lurking beneath all the daring-do and onslaught of stunt work. Many progressive boxes are ticked:
- Large female-centric cast
- The women fight valiantly
- A raging straight male tsunami of violation and terror is the enemy
- It’s a story set in ancient China, encouraging empathy with its downtrodden
- Cultural samplings of Buddhism
Forget all that. This is a nonstop action juggernaut of deadly flying fists and all manner of whirling blades of death! Survivors are few and thrills are many. Blood will be spilled and plot will be spared. The characters are too many and the setting generic. (It is labeled “Chang-Chow Village, 1797 May”). The blood is prominent and the martial arts are continuous. Best of all, it’s in 3-D!
As any connoisseur of vintage 3-D knows, there are two types of 3-D. There’s the more depth-centric preference, that sets out to immerse the viewer within its moderately semblance of ongoing Z-axis, often accentuated with weirdly flat foreground elements. In the Avatar-driven deluge of big-budget stereoscopy (the most recent wave), this type was dominant.
The other type is what people actually think of and want from a 3-D movie- things flying out of the screen! Martial arts potboilers are an obvious match to this preference, and the often gory Revenge of the Shogun Women does not at all disappoint. Director Mei-Chun Chang, also the director of the very memorable 3-D martial arts outing Dynasty (which is similarly available on Blu-ray via KL Studio Classics), isn’t screwing around here. Thanks to the miracle of the old-fashioned headache-inducing anaglyphic (red/cyan) process, most anyone can throw on a pair of corresponding hokey cardboard specs (one pair included), and thill to:
- Deadly spinning throwing stars floating towards you!
- Bladed hooks on chains flung right in your face!
- Blunt ends of dueling staffs comin’ at ya!
- Swords lunged right at you!
- Newfangled gunpowder, exploding debris everywhere!
Getting back to bigger, more resonant aspects of Revenge of the Shogun Women, however intentional they may be… Some may be familiar with the film under the alternate title, 13 Nuns. That is probably the more accurate moniker, as the primary heroines are indeed a group of highly skilled Buddhist warrior nuns. This particular convent is a place where young girls end up after they’ve been raped by marauding bandits. In this culture, that violation renders them tainted, and unworthy of marriage. In the convent, their hair is shorn, and they learn martial arts and meditation, and train relentlessly to defend the village from future bandit raids. If and when they are to leap into action (and they do), it mustn’t be for revenge. (Spoiler: It is. They can’t help it. Also, it’s in the title). It’s all very sensitive, but Mei-Chun Chang does a noticeable job of plowing through it.
So, that said, let’s take a closer look at what Revenge of the Shogun Women is really all about:
- The ornate plumage on the end of a warrior’s spear!
- Brass door knockers slamming shut in your face!
- A milling weight coming down on a guy’s head!
- A big net that comes down!
- Horses, riding past!
- The foreground items on the philosopher’s desk!
- The flung and fallen bodies of the defeated!
The extras menu is rather unique, in that it is composed only of three 3-D shorts with zero relation to the feature presentation besides being stereoscopic. And actually, these are less 3-D than just plain 3-D… and sometimes not even that. Watching these through the good ol’ red/cyan glasses, the process seems to be less and less apparent as they go on.
College Capers (1953, 15 minutes) wields a disclaimer that it had to be sourced from crummy materials. Yay, in the face of sheer cinematic Darwinism, College Capers yet survives. Like all three of these wildly unrelated shorts, it’s pretty awful. Bad acting and limited resources all around, it’s the tale of a fraternity pledge’s panty raid gone sideways. (Is there any other outcome for a movie panty raid?) The fourth wall is broken with all the enthusiasm of molasses, and the jokes are unexpectedly crude for 1953 movie standards. The 3-D is so-so at best, but you can tell where it’s supposed to stand out.
Next up is Persian Slave Market (1953, 11 minutes), which, I suppose quite thankfully, in no way resembles it’s title. That is, unless the handful of Caucasian burlesque dancers who take turns performing in what appears to be someone’s backyard are secretly Persian slaves for sale. Everything about this is less than negligible, including the quality of the 3-D.
Finally, there’s the bizarre oddity Two Guys from Tick Ridge (1973, 16 minutes). Think of it as a kind of Mystery Science Theater 3000 with random stock footage. The comedians’ voiceover is not particularly funny, but at least it’s in 3-D. Oh wait, I’m not sure it is. I can only assume that someone at the 3-D Film Archive (the venerable organization that oversaw this very amusing release) is a completist seeking to get every vintage film claiming to be in 3-D onto Blu-ray.
As fun as the feature presentation is, and as impressive as the assorted martial arts actors are (including Ying Bai, Shirley Han and Shisuen Leong), there’s no question that the true star of Revenge of the Shogun Women is 3-D. Looking for deeper meanings through the requisite viewers may be futile, but there are plenty of sights to see- and things to dodge! For those set up to watch in the newer BD3D polarized format, that option is available. Alternately, anyone can experience this disc’s contents via the old anaglyphic process, as a pair of red/cyan glasses are included. You’ll want to rustle up a few more pairs for your friends. There is a 2-D version, though the conversation is… not the best. Though the effort is valiant, blur abounds, essentially guaranteeing that Revenge of the Shogun Women will be potentially headache inducing no matter what. That, friends, is just part of it. As is the laughable English language overdubbing.
Ultimately, there’s more than enough flying fury to go ‘round (and ‘round, and ‘round…). Here, Revenge is a dish best served in 3-D!