The Singing Killer (1970)

The Singing Killer [小煞星] (1970)

Starring David Chiang, Wang Ping, Chan Sing, Tina Chin Fei, Dean Shek Tin, Ku Feng, Stanley Fung Sui-Fan, Yeung Chi Hing, Wong Chung, Lau Gong, Yip Bo-Kam, Lee Sau Kei

Directed by Chang Cheh

Expectations: Moderately high. I hope to have fun with it.


Chang Cheh’s The Singing Killer opens rather promisingly. David Chiang sits on-stage at the drums singing these choice lines (among others):

“I’m the singing killer
Fist is a fist, Knife is a knife
Kung fu, judo and karate, I specialize in all
If you dare, come and try me
The singing killer is me”

While Chiang definitely showcases his ability to kick some ass during the film’s brief but brutal fight scenes, and he’s also proven to be quite competent with a gun when he needs to be, the film just isn’t all that engaging. I mean, if David Chiang can’t even be bothered to move his mouth when he’s supposed to be singing, how am I supposed to dredge up enough excitement to be enthusiastic about this?

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The Heroic Ones (1970)

The Heroic Ones [十三太保] (1970)
AKA 13 Fighters, Shaolin Masters, Thirteen Princes

Starring David Chiang, Ti Lung, Ku Feng, Chan Sing, Chin Han, Pao Chia-Wen, Lo Wai, James Nam Gung-Fan, Lau Gong, Sung Tuan, Wong Pau-Gei, Wang Kuang-Yu, Chan Chuen, Lau Kar Wing, Wong Chung, Lily Li Li-Li, Hung Sing-Chung, Lan Wei-Lieh, Cliff Lok Kam Tung, Lee Hoi-Lung, Bolo Yeung-Tze

Directed by Chang Cheh

Expectations: High. It’s Chang Cheh, and it warranted a US Blu-ray release, it’s gotta be good.


And here I am again, checking out a Chang Cheh movie and being completely blown away. At this point in the Shaw Brothers series, I feel like I know what’s coming my way, and I expected The Heroic Ones to be another take on the traditional swordplay genre by Chang Cheh. Instead it proved to be a historical epic, and completely unlike any previous film in the series. If there’s one thing to be learned from this, it’s that I should never expect a Chang Cheh film to be simply “another take on” whatever genre I suppose the film to be by the rather uninformative box art.

The film’s plot is complicated, but never hard to understand. It is hard to quickly explain, though, concerning itself more with the relationships between brothers than focusing on the actual beats of the plot. Ku Feng is a barbarian king who has 13 princes (seemingly gathered from varying places, not actual sons) and he finds himself up against a bad group of rebels who have taken over the Imperial capital city of Chang’an. The rebel general (played by a bald Bolo Yeung) stands guard at the gate, but 13th Brother (David Chiang) takes him out in a fun battle resembling the classic “David vs. Goliath” struggle. Bolo looks menacing with his head shaved, and he reminds me of Abobo from the video game Double Dragon. This is perhaps not a coincidence, as the other Abobo-like character in Double Dragon, Bolo, supposedly gets his name from Bolo Yeung’s character in Enter the Dragon, named… wait for it… Bolo. Anyway, this fight with Bolo is perhaps the film’s best moment of choreography, but its greatest moment of action is still yet to come.

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Vengeance! (1970)

Vengeance! [報仇] (1970)
AKA Kung Fu Vengeance

Starring David Chiang, Ti Lung, Wang Ping, Alice Au Yin-Ching, Ku Feng, Yeung Chi Hing, Wong Ching Ho, Chuen Yuen, Hoh Ban, Chan Sing, Wang Kuang-Yu, Cheng Lui, Hung Lau, Lau Gong, Wong Chung, Cliff Lok Kam Tung, Shum Lo, Chen Kuan-Tai

Directed by Chang Cheh

Expectations: Super high. I’ve wanted to see this forever.


In my review for Chang Cheh’s The One-Armed Swordsman, I mentioned that Chang had thrown down the gauntlet with that film, challenging the genre to step up to the plate and create meaningful action cinema. Vengeance! is another of these pinnacle moments in the history of the genre, with Chang Cheh thoroughly tired of the status quo and looking for new inspiration. He found it in a new time period, the 1920s early Republic era, and setting the film during this tumultuous period in Chinese history makes for the perfect setting of a martial arts film. As political struggles divided China into factions and eventually led to the Chinese Civil War (1927-1950) between the Republic and the Communist forces, Vengeance! is set in an unnamed Chinese city where criminals have banded together to control the land. I don’t claim to be a history scholar, but a general knowledge of this helps to inform the setting of the film in the viewer’s mind, even if these broad struggles don’t specifically come into play during the story.

Vengeance! opens with a Peking opera, echoing (and perhaps mocking) the used and reused traditional period setting of many Shaw Brothers films. Ti Lung is the lead actor, skillfully demonstrating his martial skill in a tragic play where he is assaulted by many combatants and is eventually killed rather violently. All the while, Ku Feng is upstairs hitting on Ti Lung’s wife, and when Ti finds out, he’s pissed. He travels to Ku Feng’s martial arts school, breaks their sign (is this perhaps the first sign-breaking in martial arts history?) and proceeds to school everyone that comes near him. The criminal bosses don’t like being fucked with though, so they plot an ambush for Ti Lung and violently murder him. This is roughly the opening fifteen minutes, and already we’ve had a finale quality fight scene. Where does Chang Cheh take it from here?

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The Wandering Swordsman (1970)

The Wandering Swordsman [遊俠兒] (1970)

Starring David Chiang, Lily Li Li-Li, Cheng Lui, Cheung Pooi-Saan, Wang Kuang-Yu, Wu Ma, Chan Sing, Lau Gong, Hung Lau, Bolo Yeung-Tze, Tung Li, Nam Wai-Lit, Tung Choi-Bo

Directed by Chang Cheh

Expectations: Very high. After Have Sword, Will Travel this one should be pretty good.


After the wonderful and brilliant Have Sword, Will Travel, Chang Cheh made this film, but instead of using the fearsome duo of budding stars Ti Ling and David Chiang, he decided to make this one Chiang’s first starring role. Who knows what Ti Lung was off doing (his only films from 1970 are the ones that came after this and featured both Ti and Chiang), but regardless The Wandering Swordsman is an average, and fairly clichéd genre effort from the master Chang Cheh. I’d definitely rather see a somewhat lackluster effort from Chang than one from another director though, so The Wandering Swordsman does manage to entertain for the most part.

The film opens with David Chiang cleverly spying on two bandits. He plays with them from the grass, making them question if they’re alone. He’s so good that they don’t know he’s there, which he clearly gets off on. When the moment is right, Chiang strikes and takes the gold the men stole, in order to, y’know, give it to the poor. We got ourselves a regular Robin ‘ood! The first half continues along in this playful manner, but then it ditches the Robin Hood storyline for a more traditional wuxia “bandits vs. security company transporting treasure” story. It’s just that here David Chiang as Wandering Swordsman (Yes, that’s his name in the movie) gets caught up in the middle by being absolutely fucking stupid.

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Have Sword, Will Travel (1969)

Have Sword Will Travel [保鏢] (1969)
AKA The Bodyguard

Starring Ti Lung, Li Ching, David Chiang, Cheng Miu, Wang Kuang-Yu, Wong Ching Ho, Ku Feng, Cliff Lok Kam Tung, Lau Gong, Hung Lau, Chan Sing, Wong Chung, Cheng Lui, Cheng Kang-Yeh

Directed by Chang Cheh

Expectations: Very high? The first martial arts film by Chang Cheh with Ti Lung and David Chang? This should be spectacular.


Oh man, this one might be a long one. I think I took more notes for this one than I ever have for any previous review. Have Sword, Will Travel is the first martial arts film to feature the duo of Ti Lung and David Chiang, and boy what a film to kick off their wuxia careers. Chang Cheh’s previous martial arts film was The Invincible Fist, and while this film doesn’t quite reach those heights, it comes damn close.

Written by noted martial arts scribe Ni Kuang (who had previously written The One-Armed Swordsman and The Invincible Fist for Chang Cheh), Have Sword, Will Travel is yet another example of the man’s stunning writing ability. No one looks to this genre for quality writing (in fact, most people regularly lambaste it for its shitty writing), but they clearly haven’t experienced a great Ni Kuang script.

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Dead End (1969)

Dead End [死角] (1969)

Starring Ti Lung, Li Ching, David Chiang, Chen Hung Lieh, Angela Yu Chien, Chen Yan-Yan, Goo Man-Chung, Fang Mian, Guo Hui-Juan, Cheng Miu, Poon Oi-Lun, Yip Bo-Kam

Directed by Chang Cheh

Expectations: High. I’m excited to see this one. Looks great.


For Chang Cheh’s fifth 1969 release (out of six), he decided to take another crack at a contemporary setting. Unlike the playful nature of The Singing Thief though, Dead End is a depressing, meandering take on the French New Wave style of film about troubled youths. It’s not a style you’d initially think of Chang Cheh tackling, but his solid track record should be enough to get asses in seats. Looking back on this film from the future, it also has the added distinction of being the first starring role for Hong Kong legend Ti Lung, as well as the first film to pair up the on-screen duo of Ti Lung and David Chiang, a team so successful at the box office that they, along with Chang Cheh, were known as the Iron Triangle. I wish I could tell you that this first team-up was something special, but unfortunately, at least for me, it was sorely lacking.

Ti Lung plays a young man employed as a typist by an insurance company. As the opening credits roll, it’s clear he hates his boring job. He turns in an assignment and then sullenly walks to the high-rise window, either taking a quick break to watch the traffic below or to contemplate jumping. It’s never made explicitly clear on purpose, but given the following film, I’d guess that both weren’t far from the truth. Where Ti finds no love in his work, he does enjoy hanging out with his mechanic friend David Chiang, and riding around in their old car affectionately called Old Master. The car is the means by which Ti Lung achieves childlike happiness, and one day it leads them to meet Li Ching, a rich girl stranded on the road next to her broken-down Mercedes-Benz coupe. As any film viewer can tell you, the troubled youth/rich girl romance is destined to end poorly and the tale in Dead End is no different.

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The Invincible Fist (1969)

The Invincible Fist [鐵手無情] (1969)

Starring Lo Lieh, Li Ching, David Chiang, Fang Mian, Ku Feng, Chan Sing, Cheung Pooi-Saan, Wu Ma, Cheng Lui, Cliff Lok Kam Tung, Wang Kuang-Yu, Lau Gong, Chui Chung-Hok

Directed by Chang Cheh

Expectations: Moderate. Chang Cheh is always fun.


In Chang Cheh’s memoir he talks a lot about the period of creative soul-searching that was 1969. As I’ve mentioned in previous reviews, he became fed up with straight wuxia films after Golden Swallow and wanted to find himself a new niche that would excite creatively. He had tried a contemporary picture, The Singing Thief, which I enjoyed immensely but is generally looked down upon by most reviewers and even Chang himself. He tried to subvert the wuxia genre by focusing on an anti-hero in The Flying Dagger. Again, I thoroughly enjoyed that film, but Chang felt it to be a disaster. He tried an over-the-top action sequel in Return of the One-Armed Swordsman, which was incredibly successful, but Chang writes it off as a mere variation on a theme in his memoir. The Invincible Fist, though, he expressed a love for, and a sadness that the box office didn’t reflect the quality of the film he produced. Looking back at the many Chang Cheh films released in 1969, The Invincible Fist is by far the best made of the bunch, and definitely worthy of your time and praise. I’d never even heard of this movie until I embarked on this review series, and that’s a crying shame for a film this good.

Again Chang Cheh seeks to do something different within the wuxia swordplay genre with The Invincible Fist, but it’s not the hand-to-hand fighting you might expect from a title such as The Invincible Fist. Instead, the figurative invincible fist refers to our main character, a bounty hunter played by Lo Lieh, on the trail of a skilled team of bandits. Lo commands a small group of his own (with his brother played by none other than David Chiang in his first major role), but it’s really all about Lo Lieh and his incredible skills as both a martial performer and an actor. He plays the hard-nosed, detective-like character with a badass calm that’s both impressive and chilling. He’s no one to fuck around with, striking fear and admiration in the hearts of all that pass his way.

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