The Golden Lion (1975)

The Golden Lion [金毛獅王] (1975)

Starring Chiu Hung, Li Ching, James Nam Gung-Fan, Fang Mian, Wang Hsieh, Lee Man-Chow, Pang Pang, Chan Shen, Wong Ching-Ho, Law Hon, Chai No, Goo Chim-Hung

Directed by Ho Meng-Hua

Expectations: Low.


In the United States, when we hear that a movie has been held unreleased for any extended length of time — in this case, four years — the natural assumption is that irreparable artistic or financial issues exist with the movie preventing its release. Some of these concerns might carry over to the 1970s Hong Kong industry, but with the Shaw Brothers studio I feel like their continuous production methods led to lower priority films being abandoned, regardless of any fault in the film itself. The changing landscape of the Hong Kong industry from wuxia to hand-to-hand kung fu is the most likely culprit, causing the once flourishing wuxia genre on to the back burner for both studios and audiences.

Looking into the box office records of Ho Meng-Hua’s previous films also sheds some light on the issue. Neither of his two 1971-released wuxias, The Lady Hermit and The Long Chase, did very well, with The Lady Hermit specifically underperforming at 75th place out of 83 films released that year. Ambush was filmed in 1971 like The Golden Lion, and when it eventually released in 1973 it also did poorly, ranking 77th out of 87 films. Both Ambush and The Golden Lion star Chiu Hung & Li Ching, and while Li Ching was a great part of many Chang Cheh films, neither Li or Chiu were big enough stars to carry films on their own. In 1975, The Golden Lion also performed poorly, coming in at 84th of 92 films. Ouch. Poor wuxia. 🙁 Thanks to Celestial Pictures and the passage of time, though, we are allowed to find the hidden gems that failed to resonate in their day. The Golden Lion is one such film… in fact, I’d say it’s one of Ho Meng-Hua’s best and most satisfying wuxias.
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The Devil’s Mirror (1972)

devilsmirror_8The Devil’s Mirror [風雷魔鏡] (1972)

Starring Shu Pei-Pei, Lau Dan, Lee Ga-Sai, Wang Hsieh, Tung Lam, Cheng Miu, Chan Shen, Tong Tin-Hei, Lee Ho, Chai No, Shum Lo, Law Hon, Wang Kuang-Yu, Yau Ming, Lei Lung

Directed by Sun Chung

Expectations: High. The Avenging Eagle is one of my favorite Shaw films, so I’ve been eagerly awaiting the arrival of director Sun Chung in this review series.

threehalfstar


The Devil’s Mirror is a wuxia film that takes the supernatural roots of the genre, laces them with a heavy dollop of black magic and goes for broke. It is one of the most fun films I’ve seen yet on my chronological course through the Shaw Bros. martial arts catalog, but yet somehow it was not a success upon its initial release. I guess Hong Kong audiences weren’t ready for disfiguring curses caused by consuming corpse worm pills and an evil witch with a third eye as the main villain. Their loss.

The Devil’s Mirror opens with a large assembly of clans. These clans have pledged to disperse all evil in the land and uphold justice, but there is one major thorn in all of their sides: the Jiuxuan witch and her Bloody Ghouls clan. Many virtuous heroes have gone missing and her ultimate plan is to steal the Wind Magic Mirror and the Thunder Magic Mirror — which, according to their current owner, will cause “rays of cosmic power” when used together — so that she can open the Emperor’s tomb. There she will retrieve the Fish Intestines Sword and the Thousand Years Ganoderma and then no one will be able to defeat her! Now it’s up to couple of wily 20-something kids, Wen Jianfeng (Lau Dan) and Bai Xiaofeng (Shu Pei-Pei) to unravel the witch’s schemes and stop her before it’s too late!

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The Black Enforcer (1972)

blackenforcer_7The Black Enforcer [黑靈官] (1972)

Starring Tang Ching, Tien Feng, Fong Yan-Ji, Wang Ping, Chiu Hung, Cliff Lok, Yee Kwan, Tung Li, Wong Ching-Wan, Choi Sung, Ng Ming-Choi, Chai No, Choe Gwang-ho

Directed by Ho Meng-Hua

Expectations: Moderate.

threehalfstar


The Black Enforcer is probably the best film that I’ve seen yet from director Ho Meng-Hua. It’s rather unfortunate then that this one is rather hard to get ahold of, although intrepid Shaw Brothers fans should be able to track it down if you’re resilient enough. You shouldn’t have to stay in a darkened jail cell for 15 years while you think about the wrongs done to you like the title character of the film, but it will definitely take a bit of digging. 🙂

Before that jail cell comes into play, though, the Black Enforcer (Tang Ching) is bringing a couple of criminals in to see the yamen after they were caught looting a mansion and murdering an entire family of 13. What makes this something of a tortuous affair for the Black Enforcer is that one of the criminals is Guan Yun-Fei (Tien Feng), one of his martial arts brothers from their days under the same kung fu instructor. The Black Enforcer must put aside his feelings for the man and follow the law; there’s no excuse for his villainous behavior.

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Lady With a Sword (1971)

LadyWithASwordLady With a Sword [鳳飛飛] (1971)

Starring Lily Ho Li-Li, James Nam Gung-Fan, Meng Yuen-Man, Wang Hsieh, Chai No, Lam Jing, Ou-Yang Sha-Fei, Lee Pang-Fei, Lee Hoi-Lung, Chen Feng-Chen, Lee Ho, Lei Lung, Goo Man-Chung

Directed by Kao Pao-Shu

Expectations: Pretty low, based on the poor title.

threehalfstar


You’ve no doubt heard the adage, “Don’t judge a book by its cover” before, but you also shouldn’t judge a foreign movie by its lazy English title. Many Hong Kong films feature translated titles very similar to their Chinese counterparts, but because Lady With a Sword was originally named after its hero, Feng Fei Fei, no real translation to English could be made. I imagine that whoever was in charge of the English titles at Shaw Brothers decided to slap on the first thing they came up with and call it a day. So we’re stuck with Lady With a Sword, one of the most boring titles for a film ever.

Although, as the film played I kept rolling the title around in my head, trying to uncover some justification for why someone would slap it on this film (other than the fact that it is indeed about a lady with a sword). Film companies ultimately want to make money, so you’d think they’d want to use a title that relates in some way. By the end of the film, I had come around to it not being that bad of a title because at its heart, Lady With a Sword is about the mothering instinct and how when pushed, a female is not only capable of anything a man is, they are capable of more because of that instinctual ability to throw all caution aside to protect their loved ones. There had been many previous swordswomen films, but this one dared to actually treat them like women with distinct traits and desires, instead of a gender-neutral person that many mistake for a man.

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The Swift Knight (1971)

SwiftKnight+1971-23-bThe Swift Knight [來如風] (1971)

Starring Lo Lieh, Margaret Hsing Hui, Chin Han, Fang Mian, Wang Hsieh, Chai No, Tung Lam, Wong Chung-Shun, Fan Mei-Sheng, Yip Bo-Kam, Shum Lo, Chan Shen, Lee Pang-Fei, Hsu Yu, Nau Nau

Directed by Cheng Chang Ho

Expectations: Moderately high.

threehalfstar


While The Swift Knight starts out as a simple wuxia film that is seemingly inspired by the Robin Hood tale (as many are, although I’m sure there’s a Chinese equivalent that they’re actually based on), it quickly reveals itself to be a very different type of film than your standard Shaw Brothers fare. This is both a blessing and a curse, as it’s admirable for breaking parts of the mold and trying something different, but it also feels like something less than it could be because of this. In any case, The Swift Knight is overwhelmingly impressive, and a brisk watch for wuxia fans.

Lo Lieh plays the titular character with all the charisma you’ve come to expect from him. This was one of those rare good guy roles for him, and as with anything he’s given, he does a great job. But strangely enough in a film titled after his character, there’s actually a fair amount of focus on the characters that aren’t swift, or knights, or the Swift Knight. This is one of the major failing points of the film for me, because there’s not nearly enough Lo Lieh to satiate my desires. But in a film as fun as this, this is something of a moot point.

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The Jade Faced Assassin (1971)

JadeFacedAssassin+1971-38-bThe Jade Faced Assassin [玉面俠] (1971)
AKA And the Twain Shall Meet

Starring Lily Ho Li Li, Kao Yuen, Ku Feng, Fan Mei-Sheng, Cheung Pooi-Saan, Violet Pan Ying-Zi, Irene Chen Yi-Ling, Essie Lin Chia, Chai No, Yen Chun

Directed by Yen Chun

Expectations: Moderate. The Iron Buddha was a lot of fun.

twohalfstar


The Jade Faced Assassin is a movie that knows exactly what it is. It doesn’t try to pretend like it’s an action film, it instead trades solely in wuxia betrayals and convoluted story beats. The Jade Faced Assassin is wuxia in the old tradition, except where a lot of those older films were clumsily told and altogether boring, The Jade Faced Assassin is pretty fun if you dig what it’s selling. That could probably be said for most movies, but I feel it’s especially true when we’re dealing with old school wuxia and a Western audience. You simply must know what you’re getting yourself into.

Anyway, The Jade Faced Assassin tells a pretty standard tale of martial intrigue, this time involving yet another stolen martial arts manual and a pair of infant twins separated and raised by competing clans. Our hero, Lily Ho, was cared for by the heroic Ku Feng, but he was assaulted and injured badly in the bandit infested “Happy Town.” The bandits raised Lily Ho as their own, teaching her every technique they knew, trying to create something of an über bandit. But their plan backfires as she’s simply not cut out for the bandit lifestyle, so when she’s of age she leaves in search of vengeance for her murdered parents. Along the way she meets up with a number of colorful characters (as is to be expected in a wuxia film), and has a rollicking, fun adventure.

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Six Assassins (1971)

SixAssassins+1971-1-bSix Assassins [六刺客] (1971)

Starring Ling Yun, Ha Faan, James Nam Gung-Fan, Go Ming, Lily Li Li-Li, Siu Wa, Tong Tin-Hei, Chai No, Cheung Ging-Boh, Yau Lung, Yun Il-Bong, Chan Shen, Hung Sing-Chung, Suen Lam, Chen Feng-Chen, Fang Mian

Directed by Cheng Chang Ho

Expectations: Moderate. Cheng Chang Ho’s last movie was pretty fun.

threestar


Before I start watching one of these Shaw films that I know nothing about, I will usually watch a few seconds here and there throughout the movie to give myself an idea of what I’m about to sit through. It might seem like an odd practice, but I’ve found that doing this allows me to get a handle on my expectations, allowing me to take in the film without the high hopes that the fun titles might inspire. For Six Assassins it worked beautifully, because when I did this I saw deep, saturated colors and a lot of grand sets and costumes. This instantly reminded me of the Shaw Brothers films from the 1960s, and my expectations for the film plummeted. So when I watched the movie and I found out that it was actually really fun and not like those movies at all, I was even more enthusiastic about watching it than I would’ve been normally.

Six Assassins takes a little while to get going, as it throws a lot of dense storytelling at you immediately after the opening credits. But it boils down to this: the emperor’s brother is a royal asshole. He kills the lord of a peaceful part of the country, hoping to annex the lands and thus control the people who live there. But those people don’t take too kindly to that, so they enlist the help of the famed swordsman Mu Jun-Jie (Ling Yun). Mu drafts a small group of assassins to help him in his goal, and thus the tale of Six Assassins takes its shape.

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