When we think Shaw Brothers, we usually think of kung fu…and lots of it! That’s certainly what the studio is most known for, but it has also ventured into other genres, as well. Today’s film has its fair share of martial arts action, but that is not the main emphasis. It’s a film that is hard to place a label on. With anthropomorphic animals as the lead characters, and even a few musical numbers thrown into the mix, it has characteristics of a kids movie. A kids movie, that is, with lots of sword-wielding violence and seven sexy villains. It’s 1967’s “The Cave of Silken Web.”
This film is actually the 3rd installment of a series of films based on the classic Chinese novel The Journey to the West. However, it is the only chapter in the series actually released here in the west. The story concerns a monk (Ho Fan) who is on a journey with his three protectors: Friar Sand (Shu Tien), Pigsy (Peng Peng)…who, yes, is a pig man, and the Monkey King (Lung-chang Chou). Unfortunately, they enter a region where there is a cave inhabited by seven sexy spider demons. Upon spying the monk, they determine that were they to eat his flesh they could receive eternal life. So, they set out to capture the monk and eat him. The ladies even sing a song about how they want to eat him.
From this point, the story is pretty simple. As you may have guessed, the spider ladies are successful in capturing the monk, as well as the pig, and it’s up to the Monkey King to get them back. That part is simple enough, but there is somewhat of a tangled web to the whole thing, as well, as these various magical creatures do all sorts of tricks to try and deceive each other. The big thing that stands in the way of getting back the monk is a giant spider web the ladies have spun in front of the cave’s entrance. It’s like an electrified fence of sorts, and the Monkey King even uses this to fake his own death at one point.
The Monkey King soon gains access to the cave by changing his appearance and assuming the form of one of the spider ladies. This allows him to trick the other sisters into killing each other off; convincing them that the actual sisters are impostors. Other characters get thrown into the story as well, including a drunk old wizard and his wife, and a devil-horned creature who can also shape-shift and ends up having a, shall we say “roll in the web” with one of the spider chicks.
The Journey to the West has been used as the inspiration for many other films over the years. There was a 1927 film also called “The Cave of Silken Web.” Previously on this blog, I’ve covered the animated film “Alakazam the Great,” which also featured the Monkey King, and many westerners probably recognize the Monkey King character as having been a focus of the Jackie Chan / Jet Li film “The Forbidden Kingdom.” With talking monkeys and pigs, not to mention several songs, you do get the impression that this Shaw Brothers effort was intended for younger audiences. Then, boom, that all gets thrown for a loop! Like when one of the spider demons runs one of her sisters through with a sword and then yanks out the blood soaked blade. Then there’s the scene where one of the spiders lets her gown drop to her ankles (shown from behind) before making love with another demon on a spider web bed. If this is a kids movie, it’s fair to say that the Shaws have a much different definition of that term than a studio like Disney does.
All that having been said, this is still a very fun movie. It all takes place in a wonderful fantasy world, where pretty much anything can happen. Plus, there are some really fun characters, especially The Monkey King. He’s got a mischivious and playful spirit that is perfectly embodied by Lung-chang Chou. One of the screen’s great monkey men! Roddy McDowall, eat your heart out!
The movie was partially made on location, and partially in the Shaw Brothers studio. Though there is no mistaking which scenes are which, both look great! The sets especially are filled with interesting colors and lighting that give the whole piece a great otherworldly feel. There’s also plenty to enjoy when it comes to the action. Though the middle portions of the film are somewhat fu-free, the other sequences more than make up for it. Many Shaw fans will also, no doubt, be impressed with the lovely ladies of the film. The Shaw’s were known for filling their films with very beautiful women. With a cave full of slinky spider women to fill, the studio’s eye for shapely women was put to full use.
Though “The Cave of Silken Web” is not quite the action fest that some other Shaw films may be, it is still a film not to overlook. It’s got a playful tone, great fantasy elements, and enough action to satisfy the hard-core Shaw fans.
This post is Forgotten Films’ contribution to the Shaw Gust celebration of Shaw Brothers films hosted by YourFace. Be sure to check out all the posts!