The Eunuch (1971)

Eunuch+1971-1-bThe Eunuch [鬼太監] (1971)

Starring Pai Ying, Lisa Chiao Chiao, Chung Wa, Yeung Chi Hing, Yung Yuk-Yi, Mang Ga, Wang Hsieh, Lo Wei, Ou-Yang Sha-Fei, Hao Li-Jen, James Tin Jun

Directed by Teddy Yip Wing-Cho

Expectations: Moderate.

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Any fan of Hong Kong movies will know the significance of the eunuch in the Hong Kong cinematic universe. They often provide wuxia tales with a wild villain wielding powers untold, but I went into The Eunuch expecting it to be a little more reserved and toned down. There have only been one or two eunuchs that have shown up so far during the Shaw series, and if I remember right, they were all pretty disappointing. The eunuch in The Eunuch might not be the guy in The Heroic Trio or Tai Chi Master, but he is pretty dope, and he provides our heroes with a devious, dastardly villain to contend with throughout the film.

The Eunuch starts off with a bit of a bait and switch, though, as its story starts by introducing the title eunuch (played masterfully by Pai Ying) and showing us an assassination attempt on his life. It’s hard out there for a eunuch, but after he dodges this cheap shot, he seeks out the culprit (who happens to be the king, played by director Lo Wei) and ruthlessly kills him and his family. Even his young son is not safe, as the eunuch grabs him, flings him across the room and one of the eunuch’s henchmen slices open his body in mid-air. Moral of the story: don’t fuck with eunuchs. It’s truly gnarly, and it makes you feel bad for feeling bad about the attempt on this guy’s life. It’s a great switcheroo, and just as the eunuch thinks he’s sealed up the murder of the entire royal family, he realizes that the prince is missing, so the hunt is on!

theeunuch_1As soon as I saw that Lo Wei had written this film, I got excited. While his films might generally be a little overlong and not nearly as action-packed as a Chang Cheh film, they’re always full of great twists and really well-written. The Eunuch is no different in this regard, but because Lo Wei didn’t actually direct this film, it’s a lot more focused on providing fun action and martial thrills than the traditional Lo Wei film. The Eunuch was directed by newcomer Teddy Yip Wing-Cho. Context clues like Lo Wei & Sammo Hung’s acting appearances suggest that this was made before the mass exodus of people to Golden Harvest, which would then mean that Teddy Yip Wing-Cho’s directorial debut, a Golden Harvest film titled The Blade Spares None (released just two weeks before The Eunuch) was actually his second film and The Eunuch was his first made.

If that’s the case, then this is an incredible first film. On the strength of this film alone, Teddy Yip should have become a major player, but instead he only directed a baker’s dozen of films. Anywhere else in the world, 13 films would constitute a healthy body of work for a director, but not in the fast-paced world of 1970s Hong Kong. Anyway, the film comes off as a confident and incredibly well-shot picture, with lots of dynamic moving camera and interesting first-person shots.

theeunuch_2Simon Chui Yee-Ang was solely responsible for the fight choreography here, and the results are pretty fun. He previously co-choreographed a few Lo Wei films with Sammo Hung (The Golden Sword, Brothers Five, etc.). While this isn’t up to those standards, The Eunuch features some truly inventive and incredibly fun fights. The film ends with a series of battles that are consistently more and more heated, leading up to the final confrontation with the eunuch that is full of “Oh shit!” tension moments. The fight (and the film) brings itself to a fever pitch with a series of blows that could send the battle either way, culminating in an incredible death scene that only a wuxia film untethered to the laws of gravity could deliver. This is exactly why I love wuxia films.

I’m not one to really talk a lot about acting, but Pai Ying is excellent as the eunuch. He’s clearly in control of every scene he’s in, lacing in knowing glances while verbally deceiving those before him. He may be the villain, but he’s easily the most compelling character and this is definitely the reason the film is titled after him. Lisa Chiao Chiao and Chung Wa both perform admirably as our heroes, but neither particularly stand out as anything other than standard wuxia heroes. But that’s OK, because Yeung Chi-Hing is great as the elderly martial arts master, or as he’s known in the martial world of the film, “The Leisurely Old Man of the Bamboo Forest,” and Yung Yuk-Hi plays his perfect female foil (who unfortunately doesn’t get a cool wuxia name, but she does carry around a big bamboo staff just like Yeung).

The Eunuch is just shy of getting a higher rating, as I really had a great time watching it, but ultimately it’s just not iconic enough to rank higher. Its fun meter is pretty high, though, so definitely watch it if you’re into classic wuxia. Does the idea of alluding a eunuch’s troops through cunning, quick wits and even quicker blades sound like fun? Then you’ll definitely enjoy The Eunuch, a highly entertaining, underseen gem in the Shaw Brothers catalog. Check it out.


Not a trailer, but a little piece of the film in Russian!

Next up in this chronological jaunt through the Shaw Brothers Martial Arts catalog is the directorial début of actor Tien Feng, The Golden Seal! I love Tien Feng, but he only made two movies as a director, so I’m guessing he wasn’t cut out for it. Hopefully it’s fun, at least!

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