Pursuit (1972)

pursuit_4Pursuit [林沖夜奔] (1972)

Starring Yueh Hua, Wong Gam-Fung, Fan Mei-Sheng, Paul Chun Pui, Go Ming, Yeung Chi-Hing, Wong Chung-Shun, Chiu Hung, Lee Siu-Chung, Tong Jing, Shum Lo, Mang Hoi

Directed by Cheng Kang

Expectations: High.

fourstar


Pursuit is a prequel of sorts to Chang Cheh’s The Water Margin, focused specifically on telling the story of Yueh Hua’s character, Lin Chong AKA Panther Head. Connecting your film to one of the greatest Chinese films of all-time is a tall order, but thankfully we have the talented, resolute hands of Cheng Kang guiding Pursuit. The film is supreme entertainment from start to finish, although the focus is more on heartbreaking drama than traditional Shaw Brothers action (though there is a good amount of that too).

Like many martial arts stories, a strong thread of brotherhood runs through Pursuit, but the main theme here is trust. The film opens many years before the events of The Water Margin, as Lin Chong returns home and happily greets his wife. He is a respected instructor for the Imperial guard, and everything in his life is seemingly perfect. Lin Chong accompanies his wife to the temple and runs into an old friend, Lu Zhishen AKA Flowery Monk (Fan Mei-Sheng). At this moment, Lin Chong decides that brotherhood is more important than escorting his wife, so he trusts that she will be fine while he shares a few drinks and stories with Lu Zhishen (who also appears in The Water Margin, portrayed by Pang Pang). Lin Chong’s trust in the good of man is misplaced, though, as he returns to the temple to find the son of the Imperial Commander, Gao Yanei, attempting to rape his wife. He stops Gao, but this also sets into motion the ruination of Lin Chong’s life as he knows it.

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King Boxer (1972)

KingBoxer_1King Boxer [天下第一拳] (1972)
AKA Five Fingers of Death

Starring Lo Lieh, Wang Ping, Wong Gam-Fung, Tien Feng, Tung Lam, Fang Mian, Goo Man-Chung, James Nam Gung-Fan, Yau Lung, Chen Feng-Chen, Chan Shen, Gam Kei-Chu, Chiu Hung, Someno Yukio, Yeung Chak-Lam, Hung Sing-Chung, Bolo Yeung, Tsang Choh-Lam, Wong Ching-Ho

Directed by Cheng Chang Ho

Expectations: High.

fourstar


Opening with the sound of an alarm, King Boxer lets you know straight away that it is a film to take notice of. As an advancement of the budding hand-to-hang genre, King Boxer is exactly the film the genre needed at this point in time. It builds on the foundation set by previous films — specifically The Chinese Boxer and Fist of Fury — and takes the genre closer to what it would later become. There’s no secret why this is the film that broke through to America and created a kung fu sensation; it’s an amazingly entertaining and well-made piece of work.

At the heart of the tale is the oft-told story of battling martial arts clans, but in King Boxer it’s the way the story is told that sets it apart. It is both rooted in martial arts traditions and something unique. It takes facets of the traditional kung fu film and orders them in a non-traditional way, resulting in a film that feels familiar, yet is never boring or predictable. It also explores its themes of jealousy, courage and cowardice much more fully than the traditional ’70s martial arts film, making King Boxer fulfilling on multiple levels.

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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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The Long Chase (1971)

thelongchase_7The Long Chase [俠士行] (1971)

Starring Yueh Hua, Lo Lieh, Li Ching, Pang Pang, Wang Hsieh, Chiu Hung, Tong Tin-Hei, Law Hon, Chuen Yuen, Lee Siu-Chung, Wong Ching-Ho, Cliff Lok Kam Tung, Someno Yukio, Man Lei

Directed by Ho Meng-Hua

Expectations: Low.

threehalfstar


The Long Chase offers a different take on the heroic brotherhood stories that populate many other Shaw Brothers films, and it comes as a welcome variation. I don’t know that everyone would be as enthusiastic about this one as I am, but it must have hit me on the right day, as it was start-to-finish entertainment. The film opens at night, as the Prime Minister and his envoy are about to travel through town. Unbeknownst to the guards and their leader (Lo Lieh), a sneaky swordsman dressed all in black sneaks around the town in order to assassinate the Prime Minister. He crawls through ditches in seemingly plain sight of the guards, but I guess his movements were so good that they were imperceptible to the guards. That, or guards are just woefully incompetent in films. Probably that.

As a side note, these ditches that the assassin (Yueh Hua) crawls through are most likely the ditches dug in the sets for the cameras to capture low angles of the streets and whatever action is occurring on them. After so many of these films, the sets become fairly familiar and it seems as if I’ve seen every angle and viewpoint, so it’s always nice to see a new piece, especially one with a technical background such as this.

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The Duel (1971)

theduel_posterThe Duel [大決鬥] (1971)
AKA Duel of the Iron Fists, Duel of the Iron Fist, Duel of the Shaolin Fist

Starring Ti Lung, David Chiang, Yue Wai, Wang Ping, Chuen Yuen, Ku Feng, Cheng Kang-Yeh, Yeung Chi Hing, Hung Lau, Wong Ching Ho, Hoh Ban, Lee Wan Chung, Wang Kuang-Yu, Lau Gong, Chiu Hung, Yau Ming

Directed by Chang Cheh

Expectations: High.

fourstar


The Duel is an incredible martial arts motion picture. It might not be the type of movie that will convince non-martial arts fans of the greatness of the genre, but it will definitely delight and entertain those already in love. The Duel features so much flat-out awesome action, while also telling a very succinct and morally charged revenge tale, it’s truly one of Chang Cheh’s best films. I’m tempted to say that The New One-Armed Swordsman is a better movie, but The Duel is clearly the more awesome of the two. There is never a dull moment in The Duel, and whenever you think there might be, a whole host of henchmen sneak around the corner and assault our heroes. It’s simply a joy to behold.

The basic story of The Duel is centered around a family. When the patriarch is murdered in a public place, the elder brothers send younger brother Ren Jie (Ti Lung) away so that he can take the fall for the crime. He vows to find the killer when he returns, but before his time away is up a bunch of henchmen show up to murder him. The funny thing is: he recognizes their leader as one of his family members. This sets Ren Jie on a path of retribution, uncovering a thick web of intrigue and betrayal. Also along for the ride is The Rambler (David Chiang), a hired fighter that helped Ren Jie’s family take out a rival family during the film’s incredible opening sequence.

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The Lady Hermit (1971)

TheLadyHermit+1971-118-bThe Lady Hermit [鍾馗娘子] (1971)

Starring Cheng Pei Pei, Shih Szu, Lo Lieh, Fang Mian, Wang Hsieh, Chiu Hung, Chuen Yuen, Tong Tin-Hei, Lee Siu-Chung, Law Hon, Woo Ka-Kei, Siu Wa

Directed by Ho Meng-Hua

Expectations: Moderately high. I’m hoping this is a Cheng Pei Pei/Ho Meng-Hua collaboration to remember.

threestar


Ho Meng-Hua made many films with Cheng Pei Pei, always to entertaining, if somewhat less-than-stellar, results. With The Lady Hermit, both talents turn on their A-Game and deliver a film that’s actually worthy of the star’s wonderful charisma. The Lady Hermit is easily one of Cheng Pei Pei’s best films, and although it wasn’t entirely my cup of tea, it contains a lot of fun and martial intrigue.

Cheng Pei Pei plays the titular character, who’s doing her best to stay out of the limelight. But when a young, ambitious girl (Shih Szu, in her first film) comes to town proclaiming that she will find the Lady Hermit and become her student, it begins a chain of events that eventually leads to Cheng Pei Pei being outed from her cushy hiding spot. Such is the martial world. Add in a bit of a love triangle between Cheng, Shih and Lo Lieh, and all the pieces are in place. There is of course a villain as well, but in this film the focus is more on the three heroes than any villain shenanigans (but there’s still that too, villain shenanigans fans).

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The Chinese Boxer (1970)

The Chinese Boxer [龍虎鬥] (1970)
AKA The Hammer of God, Der Karate-Killer, Cinque dita di morte

Starring Jimmy Wang Yu, Lo Lieh, Wang Ping, Chiu Hung, Fang Mian, Cheng Lui, Wang Kuang-Yu, Chai No, Kong Ling, Wong Chung, Chan Sing, Wong Ching, Tung Li

Directed by Jimmy Wang Yu

Expectations: High. You don’t enter the first legitamite kung fu movie without high expectations.


It’s not every day you get to witness the birth of a film genre, but The Chinese Boxer is just that. This is the first legitimate kung fu film, and boy is it a good’un. It definitely doesn’t reach the heights that the genre would later ascend to, but it is a stunning début for the genre and a highly influential film. While Chang Cheh brought martial arts into the republic period with Vengeance!, changing out the wuxia swords for knives and a bit of unarmed combat, Jimmy Wang Yu took it to the next level by completely removing the weapons all together (except for one fight where Wang Yu must battle multiple samurai).

The Chinese Boxer features a story you’ve heard a million times before if you’re a big martial arts fan, and this film is essentially the genesis of the trope: some assholes from one school decide to challenge another school, thus killing the master of our main character and setting him on the path to vengeance. While tales of rival schools are forever popular within the genre, my heart holds a special place for films that pit rival styles against each other, and The Chinese Boxer is — as far as I know — the first film to feature the eternal struggle between kung fu and karate. It may not feature any actual Japanese people playing the roles of the Japanese karate masters, and their fighting style may actually be closer to kung fu than karate in the choreography, but the idea alone of kung fu battling karate was enough to put a broad smile on my face.

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