Cantonese-dialect cinema was descending towards oblivion when its fortunes were temporarily buoyed by the release of the martial arts epic Paragon of Sword & Knife in December 1967 and its "Concluding Episode" in September 1968. Of the 192 Cantonese dialect films premiering in 1967-68, more than 50 starred 21-year-old Connie Chan Po-chu, the actress who played Paragon of Sword & Knife 's male hero and, with the exception of fellow idol Josephine Siao Fong-fong, was then the most potent box-office force in Cantonese film. This two-part production was an attempt to compete with the innovations then being introduced into Putonghua dialect action pictures, particularly at Shaw Brothers, where directors such as King Hu and Chang Cheh were revolutionising the genre. Paragon of Sword & Knife 's Chan Lit-bun, a director known for his multichapter Cantonese wuxia sagas, tried to combine the best of both worlds by creating a work more polished than his previous credits but more plot-laden and character-intensive than its Putonghua counterparts. Despite the movie's colour and its widescreen trappings, it revels in its traditional qualities as a grand chronicle of fantastic events, delivered with a technical expertise that gives the old-fashioned proceedings an up-to-date patina. Adapted from Kam Tung's 1964 novel, the sprawling narrative follows teen protagonist Tso Siu-pak (Connie Chan) as he revenges the murder of his family by a coalition of evil gangs and corrupt monks. Among such fanciful settings as the toxic gas-enveloped Bridge of Life and Death, Siu-pak encounters an array of suitably offbeat personages who form a gallery of the good, the bad and the ugly. Most notable among the virtuous are the deceptively powerful Fan sisters — one blind (Law Oi-sheung) and one mute (Wong Oi-ming) — while the most evil of the villains is the Holy Patriarch (Cheung Yee). And proving that a hideous face can mask a pure heart is Master Floating Cloud (Ku Shen-lin). At a time when macho Putonghua cinema stars were becoming the Hong Kong box office's biggest draws, the film's line-up reflects the lack of male Cantonese heartthrobs by assigning the most interesting roles to maidens and geezers. The callow knight played by Kenneth Tsang Kong, for example, pales in comparison to the Tso clan's sympathetic patriarch (screen veteran Shek Kin). The ladies are even more memorable, notably the masked avenger who might or might not be the hero's presumably deceased sister (Lee Kui-on) and, most enjoyably, Suet Nei as an impudent sword-wielding lass who simultaneously pursues justice and Siu-pak. Viewed within the historical context of its release during an era of politically manipulated Red Guards and riots, the spectacle of idealistic youths defying tyrants and thugs to fight the good fight is still resonant and relevant today. Paragon of Sword & Knife , November 1, 7pm, Hong Kong Film Archive, November 9, 2pm, Broadway Cinematheque; Paragon of Sword & Knife (Concluding Episode) , November 2, 7pm, Hong Kong Film Archive, November 23, Broadway Cinematheque. Part of the 100 Must See Hong Kong Movies programme.