The 14 Amazons (1972)

14amazons_1The 14 Amazons [十四女英豪] (1972)

Starring Ivy Ling Po, Lisa Lu, Lily Ho Li-Li, Yueh Hua, Fan Mei-Sheng, Wong Chung-Shun, Lo Lieh, Tien Feng, Wang Hsieh, Shu Pei-Pei, Wang Ping, Lau Ng-Kei, Karen Yip Leng-Chi, Li Ching, Tina Chin Fei, Ou-Yang Sha-Fei, Wong Gam-Fung, Betty Ting Pei, Teresa Ha Ping, Chen Yan-Yan, Lin Jing, Bolo Yeung, Goo Man-Chung, James Nam Gung-Fan, Tin Ching, Paul Chun Pui, Yeung Chi-Hing, Cheng Miu, Chung Wa

Directed by Cheng Kang

Expectations: Very high. This is one of the greats, right?

fourstar


The 14 Amazons is a true Shaw epic, bringing together a large ensemble cast and a well-known, classic Chinese tale just like The Water Margin had done a few months earlier in 1972. The two films are epics of different proportions, though, and feel almost nothing alike. Where The Water Margin is a small slice of a larger tale (and it feels it), The 14 Amazons feels meatier and more contained (even though it is also part of a larger story). But to compare the two films is wrongheaded, as they complement each other instead of being in competition.

The 14 Amazons is based on the Generals of the Yang family group of stories that have been passed down through Chinese culture since as early as the 11th century. The film specifically tells the story of how the Yang family defended the western Song borders from the invading barbarians from Western Xia. We open on the battlefield as Commander Yang Tsung Pao (Chung Wa) is wounded and cornered without many options. Understanding his fate, he sends two of his generals, Chiao Ting Kuai (Fan Mei-Sheng) & Meng Huai Yuan (Wong Chung-Shun), to travel home to inform his family of his death and to ask for more troops to be sent to the border. They comply against their wishes to stay and help him, and here the film introduces us to the titular female characters.

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The Deadly Knives (1972)

deadlyknives_2The Deadly Knives [落葉飛刀] (1972)
AKA Fists of Vengeance

Starring Ching Li, Ling Yun, Lily Li Li-Li, Cheng Miu, Chen Yan-Yan, Chan Shen, Dean Shek Tin, Lau Gong, Goo Man-Chung, Chen Feng-Chen, Tang Ti, Lee Ho, Lee Wan-Chung, Lee Sau-Kei

Directed by Chang Il-Ho

Expectations: Low, but hopeful.

twohalfstar


The Deadly Knives is about as standard as Shaw Brothers movies come. It has very little to set itself apart, and I doubt I will remember it in a few months. It’s still entertaining and enjoyable, but it’s just another heated revenge movie featuring the Chinese vs. the Japanese in the good ol’ Bruce Lee mold. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with that, but The Deadly Knives is kinda lazy in this way, and at times it almost feels like it knows it and doesn’t care.

The Chinese vs. Japanese struggle in this particular film surrounds a forest and the logging operation that resides there. It is owned by the Yan family, but this particular forest is strategically useful to the Japanese Army. A Japanese businessman named Mr. Ogawa (Cheng Miu) enlists the help of Mr. Guan (Tang Ti), a Chinese man who prefers money over Yan, his Chinese neighbor. Meanwhile, Yan Zi Fei (Ling Yun) and Guan Yue Hua (Ching Li) are returning home from college on the train. They are the offspring of the two Chinese families in the midst of this struggle, but are blissfully unaware as they talk about getting married. All they need is the approval of their families… so… clearly, this isn’t going to work out for them.

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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.

threehalfstar


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 Young Avenger (1972)

YoungAvenger_4The Young Avenger [小毒龍] (1972)

Starring Shih Szu, Yueh Hua, Fan Mei-Sheng, Tung Lam, Chen Yan-Yan, Ng Ming-Choi, Tang Ti, Woo Wai, Wong Ching-Ho, Simon Chui Yee-Ang, Lan Wei-Lieh, Lee Siu-Chung, Chan Shen

Directed by Griffin Yueh Feng

Expectations: Fairly high.

threestar


Wuxia stories have a habit of leaving huge story points just outside our view. We often hear of these developments or past occurrences through the dialogue between characters, and this is one of the biggest reasons the genre is a tough nut to crack for newcomers. The Young Avenger is no different, although this is a far less complicated movie than the traditional wuxia story. It begins somewhere mid-stream, with the titular character (played wonderfully by Shih Szu) easily besting a group of villainous brothers at night.

The film immediately jumps back in time after this scene, although this isn’t explicitly clear right away. Only a bit later does this fact reveal itself when we realize that the little girl in the scene is the same person as the Young Avenger in the film’s opening. Don’t worry, I’m not spoiling anything in telling you about it upfront. My point in talking about this section is that it could have easily been omitted and told through dialogue like a great many wuxia plot points. There are also a number of Shaw films that use scenes similar to what’s here as their opening, before introducing the main character during, or directly after, the opening credits. But The Young Avenger chooses to revel in this “flashback,” letting it play over nearly 30 minutes to lay the groundwork for the rest of the film.

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Valley of the Fangs (1970)

Valley of the Fangs [餓狼谷] (1970)

Starring Li Ching, Lo Lieh, Chan Leung, Wang Kuang-Yu, Cheng Lui, Fan Mei-Sheng, Ngai Ping-Ngo, Wang Hsieh, Chen Yan-Yan, Tung Li, Lee Pang-Fei, Shi Xiu, Kim Chil-Seong

Directed by Cheng Chang Ho

Expectations: Moderate. Hopefully I like it better than Heads for Sale.


Another week, another moderately enjoyable Shaw Brothers wuxia film! The light at the end of the tunnel is brighter than it ever has been before, but these old school wuxia films are still really sapping my energies. Valley of the Fangs isn’t so much a bad film as it is one that’s not all that unique. As all of these Shaw Brothers films are essentially shot in the same locations and on the same sets, they have the tendency to run together. And when the direction isn’t all that interesting, they really run together, so in a few days I will have a hard time distinguishing my memories of Valley of the Fangs from the sea of films that came before it.

But I don’t want to be too harsh. Valley of the Fangs is better than I’m giving it credit for, and while it’s not pure fun like The Winged Tiger, it does have enough to keep you entertained. There’s a world of difference between keeping you entertained and actually exciting, though, so I can’t help but be a little disappointed with this spectacularly titled film. And — spoiler alert — there’s not really any fangs to be found in the valley.

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Heads for Sale (1970)

Heads for Sale [女俠賣人頭] (1970)

Starring Lisa Chiao Chiao, Chan Leung, Wang Hsieh, Helen Ma Hoi-Lun, Chen Yan-Yan, Fan Mei-Sheng, Cheng Miu, Cheng Lui, Chan Sing, Tung Li, Chai No, Hung Lau, Poon Oi-Lun, Yip Bo-Kam

Directed by Cheng Chang Ho

Expectations: Low, despite a great title.


Heads for Sale opens with a song. This is not generally a good sign, and it immediately made me think this would be a throwback film to the early days of the genre when it was all pageantry and colorful music numbers. Thankfully, this is not the case, but the film suffers horribly from disorganized storytelling and a cast of characters so large and broad that it becomes tedious to keep up with everyone. Just when you think they’ve thrown everything they can at you, Heads for Sale introduces four new villains about 12 minutes before the film ends. And these aren’t villains that the film has been alluding to throughout like ominous string-pullers lurking in the dark, they’re just four brothers looking for vengeance on two of their brothers killed earlier in the film. It’s never clear who their brothers are either, but I’m going to assume they were the two guys beheaded about halfway through the movie. So yeah, the storytelling isn’t as strong as it could be.

In any case, the story begins with Hua Bilian (Lisa Chiao Chiao) waiting patiently for word that Luo Hongxun (Chan Leung) will accept her hand in marriage. The thing is: Hua’s father has a bad reputation as a bandit, so no one wishes to marry Hua. When an emissary arrives with the bad news, Hua flips out, suits up and heads over to Luo’s home to settle the score. A woman scorned, and all that. What she’s not aware of is that Luo actually cares deeply for her, it’s his mother that said no and sent the emissary away empty-handed. Cue some misunderstandings, followed by a bunch of fights and you’ve pretty much got an idea of what Heads for Sale is all about.

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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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