Four Riders (1972)

fourriders_1Four Riders [四騎士] (1972)
AKA Hellfighters of the East, Strike 4 Revenge

Starring David Chiang, Ti Lung, Chen Kuan-Tai, Wong Chung, Lily Li Li-Li, Ching Li, Yasuaki Kurata, Tina Chin Fei, Andre Marquis, Lo Dik, Lo Wai

Directed by Chang Cheh

Expectations: High.

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On one hand, Four Riders wants to be a serious film about how G.I.s deal with the end of a war and what they do with themselves in its wake. But on the other hand, Four Riders wants to deliver all kinds of thrilling, ridiculous action that goes completely against the grain of realism. I expected the over-the-top action — how could I not when the DVD box reads: “…as a kung fu master, combat instructor, explosives expert, and missile specialist must take on a venal drug smuggling gang.” Reading that prior to watching the film really played with my expectations, as I imagined all sorts of mid-’80s action extravaganzas built on similar team-based premises. But this is all a misnomer, as Four Riders has nothing to do with what these men did while they were in the army.

The film opens in the snowy countryside of Korea. The year in 1953 and the Korean War has just come to a close. Chang Cheh spends the first few minutes of the film letting us take in the Korean landscapes, showing us the mountains, the gentle streams of snow water, and eventually the luscious green foliage of spring. This natural progression leads us to a military camp, where Ti Lung is currently stationed… but not for long. As his superior officer drives up, Ti rips off his stripes, throws them in the general’s face and proceeds to start a brawl. In the chaos he steals the boss’s jeep and heads off towards the urban fun of Seoul. The war is over, so he’s indulging his spontaneous, reckless spirit and making up for lost time.

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Man of Iron (1972)

manofiron_6Man of Iron [仇連環] (1972)
AKA Dirty Chan, Warrior of Steel

Starring Chen Kuan-Tai, Ching Li, Wong Chung, Chu Mu, Tin Ching, Bolo Yeung, Yeung Chi-Hing, Pao Chia-Wen, Chiang Tao, Li Min-Lang, Wang Kuang-Yu, Cheung Ging-Boh, Chan Chuen

Directed by Chang Cheh & Pao Hsueh-Li

Expectations: Moderate.

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Man of Iron immediately sets itself up as a sequel to The Boxer from Shantung, but the only returning character is the street where everything happens. I’ve also heard the film referred to as a remake of the previous film, but this is also a misnomer as the stories are vastly different. The Boxer from Shantung is a re-telling of the classic gangster tale Scarface, but Man of Iron bears little resemblance to this rag-to-riches gangster tragedy. Instead, we just have Chen Kuan-Tai playing a character who wants to move up in the gangster hierarchy, but the characters themselves, while sharing some similar goals, are pretty far from being actually similar.

Man of Iron is set 20 years after the end of The Boxer from Shantung. The street and the people who populate it have moved on, and new gangs have grown to control the area. There are two major gang bosses: Chang Gen Bao (Chu Mu) and Yu Zhen-Ting (Yeung Chi-Hung). One day, Yu Chow-Kai (Tin Ching), the son of the gang boss Yu, is gambling and has all of his money taken by Qiu Lian-Huan (Chen Kuan-Tai), a man with a small gang of friends that’s tired of being small time. Yu’s son is a man who has inherited his place in the gangster world, so he is easily bested and intimated by Qiu, a man who has fought to be where he is.

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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.

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Young People (1972)

youngpeople_6Young People [年輕人] (1972)

Starring David Chiang, Ti Lung, Chen Kuan-Tai, Agnes Chan Mei-Ling, Irene Chen Yi-Ling, Wu Ma, Chin Feng, Lo Dik, Wong Chung, Bolo Yeung, Sze-Ma Wah-Lung

Directed by Chang Cheh

Expectations: Very interested, but I don’t know what to expect.

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Young People is a movie that I can see a lot of people hating, especially those who notice the combo of Chang Cheh directing Ti Lung, Chen Kuan-Tai and David Chiang in the lead roles and expect a heroic struggle of martial brotherhood. Young People is definitely not that, although oddly enough it is about brotherhood (or at least working together). Different doesn’t necessarily mean bad, but as an offbeat musical comedy from 1972, it’s pretty much exactly the type of movie that will put a lot of people off. For me, it brought huge smiles to my face throughout. There were a couple of groans, I can’t lie, but for the most part I smiled.

The story of Young People is quite loose and free-flowing in an effort to reflect the young people of its title. At a college in Hong Kong there are three clubs: the Music & Dance club, the Sports club and the Martial Arts club. David Chiang plays Hung Wai, the head of the Music club; Ti Lung plays Lam Tat, the captain of the sports club; and Chen Kuan-Tai plays Ho Tai, the leader of the martial arts club. Each student is like a star among their fellow club members, garnering respect and admiration, but the other groups do not return the favor. They tease one another and fight for ridiculous, petty reasons. Y’know… like young people do. So the “story” involves each of the three clubs competing in a tournament, only each club is unable to win on their own.

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Trilogy of Swordsmanship (1972)

trilogyofswordsmanship_5Trilogy of Swordsmanship [群英會] (1972)

Starring Shih Szu, Yueh Hua, Tin Ching, Meng Yuen-Man, Kao Pao-Shu, Bolo Yeung, Cheung Ging-Boh, Lily Ho Li-Li, Lo Lieh, Chung Wa, Chin Han, Wang Ping, Kong Ling, Ku Chiu-Chin, Lau Ng-Kei, Chen Yan-Yan, Lee Wan-Chung, Ti Lung, David Chiang, Li Ching, Ku Feng, Bruce Tong Yim-Chaan, Wong Chung, Wu Chi-Chin, Cheng Lui, Chan Sing, Wang Kuang-Yu, Wong Ching-Ho

Directed by Griffin Yueh Feng, Cheng Kang & Chang Cheh

Expectations: High.

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On more than one occasion I’ve said that anthology movies just aren’t my thing. But a Shaw Brothers anthology film? My interest was piqued, although the mere idea of a wuxia anthology film seems like something of a ludicrous idea. Even at a full 90 or 120 minutes, a wuxia story is compressed and hard to understand, so cutting three of them to fit into a total of 107 minutes just doesn’t seem like a good idea. But it is. Totally.

Each film brings something unique to the screen. The first tale, directed by Griffin Yueh Feng (even if the screen credit says otherwise), is called The Iron Bow. It’s a lighthearted tale of love and unwanted attention, and it’s a perfect example of how to stage a martial arts short story. Master Shi (Tin Ching) is infatuated with the young Ying Ying (Shih Szu), but she doesn’t care for him at all. He is a rich official who comes with a procession of men to ask for her hand in marriage, but Ying Ying’s father thought ahead. When he died he left an iron bow in the family’s restaurant, and said that any man who could draw the bow was worthy of his daughter’s hand. This leads to many comical situations to balance the wuxia violence, and it results in a very pleasing bite-sized film. Yueh Hua and Shih Szu also have a fantastic spear battle, and Bolo Yueng pops up at the end with a rare full head of hair. Pure entertainment, if a bit light.

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The Water Margin (1972)

watermargin_10aThe Water Margin [水滸傳] (1972)
AKA Seven Blows of the Dragon, Outlaws of the Marsh

Starring David Chiang, Tetsuro Tamba, Toshio Kurosawa, Ku Feng, Chin Feng, Fan Mei-Sheng, Yueh Hua, Wong Chung, Ti Lung, Lily Ho Li-Li, Pang Pang, Tung Lam, Wu Ma, Cheng Lui, Paul Chun Pui, Chen Kuan-Tai, Danny Lee, Wu Chi-Chin, Lee Hang, Lau Dan, Lei Lung, Zhang Yang, Leung Seung-Wan, Lo Wai, Lee Wan-Chung, Shum Lo, Wong Ching-Ho, James Nam Gung-Fan, Lau Gong, Cheng Miu

Directed by Chang Cheh, Wu Ma & Pao Hsueh Li

Expectations: High.

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The Water Margin is a classic of Chinese literature, a novel written in the 14th century that has inspired and entertained the Chinese people ever since. That’s quite the run for a novel, and judging by the amount of quality storytelling in Chang Cheh’s The Water Margin, it’s with good reason. The novel, also known as Outlaws of the Marsh, is about a group of 108 men and women who came together at Liang Shan Mountain in an effort to fight the corrupt Imperial ruler. Chang Cheh’s adaptation attempts to bring a small slice of the overall story — chapters 64-68 — to the silver screen, focusing on the tale of how Lu Junyi the Jade Unicorn (Tetsuro Tamba) and his protégé Yen Qing (David Chiang) came to join the group. At the same time, Chang casts virtually every actor employed by the Shaw studio, resulting in a true martial arts epic that feels huge and sprawling. Certain characters might not get much screen-time or development — Chen Kuan-Tai is on-screen for less than 10 seconds, drinking a bowl of wine — but it is made very clear that this is a teeming world full of rich characters. We may not be privy to all the details, but you can rest assured that every character has a motive and a rich backstory.

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The Angry Guest (1972)

AngryGuest_1The Angry Guest [惡客] (1972)
AKA Kung Fu Killers, The Annoyed Guest

Starring David Chiang, Ti Lung, Chang Cheh, Ching Li, Kurata Yasuaki, Fong Yan-Ji, Chan Sing, Bolo Yeung, Woo Wai, Yau Ming

Directed by Chang Cheh

Expectations: High.

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I imagine if you’re reading this you like Shaw Brothers movies. What I’m unsure of is your affection for Sean Connery-era James Bond films. If you happen to be one of those people who enjoys both, I think you’ll get quite the kick out of Chang Cheh’s The Angry Guest. The film is a direct sequel to 1971’s Duel of Fists, taking that film’s reunited brothers on another thrilling journey in an exotic country. Last time it was Bangkok, Thailand, as Fan Ke (David Chiang) was in search of the brother he never knew he had, Wen Lieh (Ti Lung), and this time we’re on our way to Tokyo, Japan.

But for fans of Duel of Fists‘ realistic approach to capturing Muay Thai boxing on-screen, don’t expect any of that to make it into the sequel (outside of a scant few moments during the training intro). After defeating the crime boss Chiang Ren (Chan Sing) and breaking his leg at the end of Duel of Fists, the brothers came back to Hong Kong. Fan Ke resumed his career as an architect that stands around Hong Kong construction sites and points at things, and Wen Lieh took to training the students at the family’s kung fu school. But when Chiang Ren escapes from prison, he hooks back up with his gang, murders Wen’s mother and friend, and takes his girlfriend (Ching Li) hostage. But Chiang Ren’s Japanese boss, Yamaguchi, isn’t satisfied with his performance against the brothers before, so he has the kidnapped girl brought to his base of operations in Tokyo.

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