The Fugitive (1972)

thefugitive_3The Fugitive [亡命徒] (1972)

Starring Lo Lieh, Ku Feng, Li Ching, Lee Ga-Sai, Ding Sai, Tang Ti, Dean Shek Tin, Lee Pang-Fei, Chu Gam, Tong Tin-Hei, Sek Kin, Chan Shen

Directed by Chang Tseng-Chai

Expectations: Moderate and hopeful.

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Due to their grindhouse status in the West, Shaw Brothers films are often looked down upon as B-Movies. I firmly disagree and I try to reflect this opinion in my reviews of the films. But some of their films are definitely B-Movie material, and The Fugitive is a perfect example. While it is a great little action movie, it has a threadbare story and is so over-the-top at times that you could never take it seriously. These things matter in many films, but in a B-Movie these are the cherries on top. And The Fugitive is pretty damn cherry-tastic.

The film opens on a wanted poster depicting the feared outlaws Liao Fei Lung (Lo Lieh) and Ma Tien Piao (Ku Feng). These very same men ride into town and hold up the bank. Things don’t exactly go to plan, but these bandits are not your average bank robbers — they are experts in horseback riding and marksmanship! The bandits easily shoot their way out of town with the spoils of the robbery.

thefugitive_1If you’re thinking this sounds like the beginning to a western (perhaps The Wild Bunch?), then you wouldn’t be wrong. Not only does the film feel quite influenced by the western genre, it also uses a great deal of the heavy, revenge-driven Ennio Morricone score from Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in the West. Even if the music is stolen, when it’s laid over a tense, dramatic showdown in the middle of a small-town street, the only word for it is awesome. The music is very skillfully used and it heightens the thick bandit melodrama considerably.

The film’s action is also quite unique. There are some martial arts sprinkled throughout, but most of the thrills come from the barrel of a gun… or a lot of guns, I should say. The gunfights here are incredibly thrilling and fun, with the bandit anti-hero shooting every last enemy with superior skill and accuracy, and every enemy missing the bandit anti-hero like blind men trying to hit a target 1000 yards away. Is it logical that Lo Lieh could survive a gun battle on the ocean rocks when he’s fending off maybe 50 or so policemen by himself? Of course it’s not, but woo-wee it is a good time. Add in a very healthy amount of wonderfully gratuitous Shaw Brothers blood sprays and you have yourself a fantastic little slice of action heaven.

thefugitive_4The Fugitive isn’t the type of movie to win awards or cause a big stir, but it’s 76 minutes of pure entertainment. The story is perhaps its weakest element, but anyone that loves a good revenge tale will look past this flaw with ease. Besides, who needs a great story when you score your revenge with Morricone? The Fugitive also features a plethora of great “Lo Lieh looking suitably badass” moments, a commodity that should be highly treasured in this reviewer’s humble opinion. The Fugitive might not be as good of a movie as The Casino was, but director Chang Tseng-Chai clearly knows how to churn out great fun. Definitely recommended to Shaw fans who enjoy gunplay movies.

Next up in this chronological jaunt through the Shaw Brothers Martial Arts catalog is Teddy Yip Wing-Cho’s The Black Tavern! Bring it on! See ya then!

8 comments to The Fugitive (1972)

  • I wanted to like this movie, but despite an awesome opening (honestly, that whiplash-camera is almost Scorsese-an at points). The movie is essentially a near scene-for-scene remake of One-Eyed Jacks, with the only scenes missing being those very ones which made Brando’s film so interesting (the ambiguity of its hero and villain; the sadism and masochism). It just increasingly slows down and grinds to a halt. And while I’m the type to easily suspend disbelief, even the finale had me calling shenanigans on Lo Lieh’s infinite ammo and ability to deflect bullets.

    What’s worse, the film feels like it was truncated. Genuinely lavish and epic scenes – like when Lo Lieh is ambushed and the gunmen suddenly appear out of nowhere across a mountain landscape – are put against others that look plain cheap and rushed by Shaw standards.

    I actually a have a theory that this film was began before the release of the epic Redbeard (another film missing from your list, although good luck finding it), and after that film tanked, it was halted and rewritten as a “smaller” b-film. Chang’s whole thing at the time was making these films with real locations and big landscapes, all with Western overtones. I can think of no other way to explain the diminishing returns of the film. Or Sek Kin’s completely useless appearance, especially since the film starts by setting him up as the Ben Johnson equivalent of the Brando film: the “partner” which ends up becoming as much a villain as Karl Malden/Ku Feng. Considering that nasty villains was Sek Kin’s stock and trade, there’s no point including him otherwise, especially for a guest appearance.

    The appearance of Sammo Hung in that earlier, “big” scene, who by release was already Golden Harvest’s golden choreographer, also seems conspicuous. The fact that The Casino is also unusually stripped-down makes me wonder if Chang was doing penance for having his big film d’auteur flop. And he’d never be allowed by Shaw to work on that scale again.

  • Obvious that first sentence should read ” wanted to like this movie, but despite an awesome opening, it wasn’t very good”.

    A few more thoughts:

    Why include the hand-smashing from the original film if you’re not going to include the scenes where Brando “trains” and figures how to shoot with it. Especially since its very much in line with a Kung-Fu film! And right up Lo Lieh’s alley! Like Sek Kin, its another abrupt about-face that feels like production was forced to change course and tie up loose ends quickly.

    Ultimately, I feel Chang Cheh did the big Shaw shootout better in The Anonymous Heroes, one of my favorite Chang Cheh b-sides (model train or not).

    While you might not be able to track down Redbeard, if you liked these, you might want to go out of your way to backtrack and find From the Highway, the film that launched the kung-fu craze and was responsible for Shaw snatching Chang T.C. up from Cathay and offering him more or less complete control on his first film. There’s a pretty good bootleg DVD, sourced from 35mm, floating around the internet, and its certainly interesting in the way it mixes wuxia, war and western genres, all while incorporating hand-to-hand combat.

    Speaking of which, the next two films are a doozy: The Black Tavern is an awesome, pulpy twist on King Hu, with an all-time great performance from Ku Feng (and trust me, if haven’t yet, don’t ready any synopsis, no matter how small… some of them spoil a big twist). And Four Riders is Chang Cheh doing Nikkatsu-style neo-noir, and is one of his most underrated films.

    • I don’t think it’s especially bad, although my love of B-Movies might be clouding my judgment on it a bit. I know I was entertained.

      Thanks for the great insights as to the film’s origins as a remake of One Eyed Jacks. I haven’t seen that one yet, so I’m sure this played a role in my enjoyment of The Fugitive for what it was. I definitely agree that Anonymous Heroes is a better movie, but Fugitive feels like it’s reaching a lot lower than that one.

      Also, thanks for your info on Redbeard and From the Highway. I think you might be onto something with Chang Tseng-Chai’s “smaller” films following the failure of Redbeard. I was also wondering what Sammo was doing here, but if we are to then assume that this was shot before his defection to Golden Harvest then that would put the production of this film into 1970, and that seems unlikely to me. HKMDB lists him as having some background roles in a few other 1972 Shaw films, so either he did a couple stints as an extra/stuntman to pay some bills or the films were shooting before he left. But who knows?

      My plan after I finish up 1972 was to go back and look at a few older films that were previously unavailable (Downhill They Ride, Enchanted Chamber, etc) so Redbeard and From the Highway will make great additions to that. The hunt begins!

      Good to know I have some good ones coming up soon! I’ve been looking forward to Four Riders for a while, and The Black Tavern sounds great. I do my best to avoid any kind of plot or spoilers for all movies if I can. Everything’s better that way!

      • I stumbled upon this: http://www.viki.com/videos/219874v-from-the-highway for From the Highway. Unfortunately, it’s full-screen after the credits, but it’s subtitled and looks a lot nicer than that cam of the 35mm print that you mentioned.

      • Well, judging from his filmography, my guess is that Sammo was doing bit work for Shaw all the way up until the start of 1972: he has a last wave of bit work throughout the first half of the year, before it essentially stops. At the same time, not only was he taking on a bigger role at GH as choreographer, but also as a character actor, which makes it so unusual to see him so prominently in a Shaw film, as all his other ’72 roles are essentially blink-and-you-miss-him extra and stunt work. You add the fact that Shaw would often shelve perfectly fine and finished films until a slot in their release schedule opened up – not to mention the constantly unfinished/restarted films (like Black Enforcer) or movies that Shaw’s shelved for a specific reason (holding on to Lo Wei’s two final films for over a year just to counterprogram them against his Golden Harvest films) – and there’s really no telling if his films that year were filmed anywhere near their release date.

        You can’t know without looking at the production rolls, but my hunch was that it was filming near the end of ’71, only to be stopped when it was clear that Redbeard was a flop. That wouldn’t leave a lot of time for The Casino to be filmed, but Shaw wasn’t above rushing out kung-fu films at this period (See Boxer from Shantung, which Shaw put together in something like two months).

        • I’m inclined to agree with you on the Sammo issue. Makes sense that he’d still do some bit work here and there as time permitted in those early years of his career. You’re so knowledgeable about all this stuff, I feel like you should have a site of your own!

  • I’m not talking about the falkor cam (which is actually pretty good and has arguably better colors)… there’s a widescreen, subbed telecined version floating around from Fu Subs.

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