The Delightful Forest (1972)

DelightfulForest_1The Delightful Forest [快活林] (1972)

Starring Ti Lung, Chu Mu, Chiang Nan, Lan Wei-Lieh, Tin Ching, Wong Ching-Ho, Lee Man-Tai, Wang Kuang-Yu, Yue Fung, Kwok Chuk-Hing, Lau Kar-Wing, Wang Han-Chen, Hoh Gong, Li Min-Lang, Kong Ling

Directed by Chang Cheh & Pao Hsueh-Li

Expectations: High.

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The Delightful Forest is another Shaw Brothers film based on the classic Chinese novel Outlaws of the Marsh (AKA The Water Margin). This time they’re focusing on Ti Lung’s Water Margin character Wu Song. The Delightful Forest adapts Chapters 27–31, the story of Wu Song’s imprisonment after killing his devious sister-in-law and her lover after they had fatally poisoned Wu Song’s brother. I also just found out that the tale of Wu Song’s brother was told by the Shaw Brothers many years earlier in the 1963 Huangmei opera film, The Amorous Lotus Pan (and again a few years later in 1982’s Tiger Killer). In any case… The Delightful Forest!

The film opens with Wu Song (Ti Lung) confronting his sister-in-law’s lover in a restaurant… you can’t argue with a film that opens with a restaurant fight. Wu Song exacts his revenge and is quickly captured without incident for this murder. Now wearing a cangue, he is escorted by two guards to the nearby prison. The prison chief’s son, Shi En, recognizes Wu Song as the martial hero he is, so he begins giving Wu Song preferential treatment. When confronted about it, Shi reveals that he wishes for Wu Song to help him in a sticky matter.

DelightfulForest_2Shi En is the town boss of the village Delightful Forest (Happy Grove in my translation of Outlaws of the Marsh), but one day a huge, strong man named Jiang beat up Shi En and took control of the town and its many taverns & gambling houses. Shi desires Wu Song’s aid in defeating Jiang and re-establishing control of the town. Being the hero that he is, and in the tight spot of being a prisoner at the moment, Wu doesn’t have much choice but to agree (although his stature as a hero allows him to make a bargain for wine a-plenty on the way to Delightful Forest).

The Delightful Forest is a well-made, enjoyable film, but it’s one that is too slowly paced to be great. Just looking over that synopsis above, that probably covers the first 40 minutes or so right there. The film seems largely aimless and without a central driving force until the deal with Shi En, and even then it’s not all that driving or engaging on a story level. The film seems to adapt these chapters of the novel quite well, even using some dialogue lines almost word for word (such as the “pubic hair in the steamed buns” crack), but it felt oddly paced to me. Perhaps I’m just becoming an impatient action-hound, but I found myself somewhat bored and indifferent through some sections of The Delightful Forest.

DelightfulForest_3The fights are well-done, which at this point is to be expected from this era of Shaw Brothers film. Especially so when the film sports the fearsome foursome of Tang Chia, Lau Kar-Leung, Lau Kar-Wing & Chan Chuen handling the action. There’s a lot of fighting while Ti Lung is wearing the cangue, and while there was some of that in Trilogy of Swordsmanship and Pursuit, The Delightful Forest is where the cangue shines. With Wu Song’s arms taken almost completely out of the equation, the choreography must be extra inventive to make it seem convincing. Ti Lung not only convinces, he looks totally badass, and this feeling only grows when he is unleashed and fighting without any impairments. To be honest, though, there weren’t enough fights for me, but what we’re given is still great entertainment.

Held up against The Water Margin and Pursuit, I was somewhat disappointed in The Delightful Forest. It’s still a very entertaining, well-made film, though, and I imagine it’ll grow on me when I re-watch it. When a film has such a rousing finale as The Delightful Forest, it’s hard to criticize it too much. Ti Lung thoroughly owns the film with a commanding performance, both physically and in terms of charismatic acting charm. Definitely recommended to Shaw Brothers fans.

Next up in this chronological jaunt through the Shaw Brothers Martial Arts catalog: it’s Lin Fu-Ti’s The Imperial Swordsman, and I hear it’s pretty damn good! See ya then!

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