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 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.

fourstar


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 ever 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 Killer (1972)

thekiller_1The Killer [大殺手] (1972)
AKA Sacred Knives of Vengeance

Starring Chin Han, Chung Wa, Wang Ping, Chiang Nan, Cheng Miu, Yeung Chi-Hing, Ku Feng, Cheng Kang-Yeh, Cheng Lui, Wang Kuang-Yu

Directed by Chor Yuen

Expectations: High.

threehalfstar


The Killer didn’t exactly light up the Hong Kong box office when it was released, but it offers a great take on a simple and classic martial arts storyline. Hsiao Hu (Chung Wa) returns to his hometown after an absence of many years, only to find that it has been overrun by drug smugglers! Hsiao is told that it’s the work of a large martial arts school in town, so he roughs up the students and breaks their sign. But the school is actually innocent of all wrongdoing; Hsiao is being played! To protect themselves, the school calls in Inspector Ma (Chin Han) to bring Hsiao to justice. The only thing is that Hsiao and Ma are old friends from their youth in the circus, and they both love Xiao Mei (Wang Ping), who’s now a famous singer in town. Ah shucks, how’re they gonna get outta this one? Sounds like the kind of story that Chang Cheh (or Three’s Company) could’ve had a field day with, but director Chor Yuen handles it with a slightly softer touch than Chang would have used.

Chor Yuen tells the main story very directly as you’d expect in a genre film, but the character’s back stories are handled with quick flashbacks that inform us in short order who these people are and how their lives are — or were — intertwined. This deft economy of storytelling adds an artistic flair to The Killer which sets it apart a lot from similarly themed brotherhood films. The audience is also in on the deception right from the beginning, so we’re watching both how the dominoes are set up and how they gloriously fall down.

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The Deadly Duo (1971)

TheDeadlyDuo_1The Deadly Duo [雙俠] (1971)

Starring David Chiang, Ti Lung, Ku Feng, Wong Chung, Chan Sing, Stanley Fung Sui-Fan, Bruce Tong Yim-Chaan, Wang Kuang-Yu, Cheng Lui, Chen Feng-Chen, Lau Gong, Yeung Chak-Lam, Bolo Yeung, Wong Pau-Gei, Lau Kar-Wing, Chan Chuen, Yau Lung

Directed by Chang Cheh

Expectations: Very high.

threehalfstar


The Deadly Duo is a thrilling martial arts film, but not necessarily for the reasons generally associated with the genre. The fights, always the highlight of any martial arts film, are thrown in almost as an afterthought in The Deadly Duo. There’s a lot of action, but the fights are never the knock-down, drag-out battles fans of the genre come in expecting. And this is kind of weird in a Chang Cheh film, the man known for creating and popularizing the knock-down, drag-out, bloody-as-hell fight scene. But that’s the thing with Chang Cheh, he was always searching for a different way to make what most people would call very similar films. And it is in this slight innovation that the film shines.

The Deadly Duo is the first film in my Shaw Brothers review series to feature a group of fighters based on the five Chinese elements or Wu Xing. They are collectively known as the “Five Elements Great Fighters.” The group consists of River Dragon (Bolo Yeung), Golden Demon, Fire Demon Lui, and… Unfortunately, the wood and earth guys didn’t get cool names of their own in the subtitles, but the HKMDB entry lists them as Leopard and Mole. These five amazing fighters all work for the invading Ching forces, who have kidnapped the Sung Prince Kang. We are told at the beginning of the film that Kang later escaped and went on to become the first emperor of the Southern Sung Dynasty, so the end of our film is already laid out for us.

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The Anonymous Heroes (1971)

AnonymousHeroes+1971-1-bThe Anonymous Heroes [無名英雄] (1971)

Starring David Chiang, Ti Lung, Ching Li, Ku Feng, Cheng Miu, Tang Ti, Yeung Chi Hing, Wong Ching Ho, Lan Wei-Lieh, Lee Wan Chung, Lee Sau Kei, Chan Sing, Cheng Lui

Directed by Chang Cheh

Expectations: Moderate.

threestar


One might expect illustrious director Chang Cheh to follow-up his incredible film The Duel with another thrilling tale of heroic brotherhood and bloodshed, but The Anon — OK, you got me. Yes, The Anonymous Heroes is yet another Chang Cheh film centered around heroic brotherhood and bloodshed, but this one is unlike anything he had directed previous, I promise! The themes may be similar, and huge Chang Cheh fans can probably guess the ending without seeing a frame of film, but The Anonymous Heroes is completely worth your time as it’s a hybrid of many different genres. Here we have gunplay, martial arts, heists, general action, comedy… it’s pretty close to everything Chang Cheh had done in his previous films, all rolled into one! What a value!

David Chiang and Ti Lung play a pair of brothers who don’t do a whole lot with their lives. Ti Lung spends his days stealing and gambling (with the help of Ching Li, a female friend), and is prone to bouts of anger. David Chiang enjoys stealing from the rich soldiers in town, and then spreading the wealth around by supporting the local shopkeepers and restaurant owners. One day, they attract the interest of a revolutionary, played by Ku Feng, who asks if they would help him to steal 3,000 rifles and 280,000 rounds of ammo from the soldiers. Since they have nothing better to do and it sounds fun, the brothers and Ching Li agree to help Ku Feng with the insane task of pulling off the heist.

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The New One-Armed Swordsman (1971)

NewOneArmedSwordsman+1971-1-bThe New One-Armed Swordsman [新獨臂刀] (1971)
AKA Triple Irons

Starring David Chiang, Ti Lung, Li Ching, Ku Feng, Chan Sing, Wong Chung, Lau Gong, Wong Pau-Gei, Wang Kuang-Yu, Wong Ching Ho, Shum Lo, Cheng Lui

Directed by Chang Cheh

Expectations: Super high. I imagine David Chiang can pull off a rather awesome One-Armed Swordsman movie, but we’ll see!

fourstar


Going into The New One-Armed Swordsman, I was excited. I’m a big fan of the previous One-Armed Swordsman movies, so I expected this is be a retelling of the original with David Chiang in the lead instead of Wang Yu. But this thread of logic forgets one key bit about Chang Cheh: his desire to continue moving forward, specifically not redoing his old pictures time and time again. And The New One-Armed Swordsman is true to its name; it is a completely new character and origin story. While The One-Armed Swordsman is one of the most influential and iconic Hong Kong films of all time, and its sequel Return of the the One-Armed Swordsman is one of the funnest Shaw Brothers films of the 1960s, The New One-Armed Swordsman is easily my favorite of the three. It combines the serious tone of the original and the focus on exciting action that typified the sequel, making The New One-Armed Swordsman nothing but awesome.

The film opens with a rousing bit of music and Lei Li (David Chiang) riding through the hills slaughtering any who comes across his path. He is a young, cocky martial artist, famous for his use of the twin swords. Some devious men frame him for a robbery and this leads him into a fight with Lung Er Zi (Ku Feng). Lung is the man responsible for framing Lei, but he’s running a good front so everyone thinks he’s a paragon of virtue. Anyway, Lung challenges Lei to a duel and whoever loses must cut off their right arm and retire from the martial world. One guess who loses.

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King Eagle (1971)

KingEagle+1970-1-bKing Eagle [鷹王] (1971)

Starring Ti Lung, Li Ching, Cheung Pooi-Saan, Cheng Miu, Wang Kuang-Yu, Wong Chung, Cheng Lui, Lau Gong, Chan Sing, Yau Lung, Lee Sau Kei, Bruce Tong Yim-Chaan, Tung Li, Hung Lau, Tang Chia, Chan Chuen

Directed by Chang Cheh

Expectations: Moderately high. I’m interested to see what Chang Cheh can bring to a wuxia film after his other films.


It’s never a surprise to enjoy a Chang Cheh movie thoroughly, and King Eagle is a great piece of work from the master. It’s definitely minor in his massive filmography, but King Eagle sets itself apart by focusing mostly on its story. Written by the illustrious and always dependable Ni Kuang, King Eagle is a wuxia film that focuses on a growing conflict within the Tien Yi Tong clan, and how a single, wandering swordsman known to the martial world as King Eagle (Ti Lung) is drawn into their business.

The headmaster of the Tien Yi Tong clan is murdered, and the call goes out across the land to assemble the chiefs so that a new headmaster can be named. What most of the chiefs don’t know is that the 1st Chief (Cheung Pooi-Saan) is the one responsible for their master’s death! King Eagle is informed of this by a dying soldier, and even though he has no stake in the matter and he’d rather just go about his own business, the 1st Chief and his minions antagonize him and try their best to kill him because of what he knows.

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