Village of Tigers (1974)

villageoftigers_4Village of Tigers [惡虎村] (1974)

Starring Yueh Hua, Shu Pei-Pei, Karen Yip Leng-Chi, Tung Lam, Wang Hsieh, Tang Ti, Chan Shen, Ng Wai, Tung Li, Tong Tin-Hei, Chan Ho, Lan Wei-Lieh, Wan Chung-Shan

Directed by Griffin Yueh Feng & Wong Ping

Expectations: Moderate, but I generally like Griffin Yueh Feng’s work.

twohalfstar


My chronological review series of the Shaw Brothers martial arts films enters 1974 not with a bang but a whimper. Well, whimper is probably a little strong. Village of Tigers is relatively entertaining, but a 79-minute movie should never feel as long as this one does. Its problems are myriad, its intrigue is slight; it’s the kind of wuxia to see when you’ve exhausted a lot of the better options. The finale is of markedly better quality than the rest of the movie, but even this is not enough to save this rather sedate wuxia from mediocrity.

The story’s lack of focus is one of its major issues, and I could easily describe most of the movie in an attempt to provide even a quick summary. Basically, the titular Village of Tigers is the home to a huge group of bandits who like to go around and pillage. On this particular day, they’re concerned with bumping off the Sword of the Southern Sky, Luo Hong-Xun (Yueh Hua). Meanwhile, Bao Ying Hua (Karen Yip Leng-Chi) is on her way to Wild Date Peak for her grandma’s birthday party, and 9th Miss (Shu Pei-Pei), Bao’s cousin, has discovered that her brother Ba Jie (Tung Li) is in league with the bandits holed up at the Village of Tigers.

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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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A Taste of Cold Steel (1970)

A Taste of Cold Steel [武林風雲] (1970)

Starring Chang Yi, Yau Ching, Essie Lin Chia, Shu Pei-Pei, Chen Hung Lieh, Wong Chung-Shun, Ku Feng, Wu Ma, Hung Lau, Simon Chui Yee-Ang, Fang Mian, Lee Kwan, Wang Hsieh, Lee Wan Chung, James Tin Jun

Directed by Griffin Yueh Feng

Expectations: Moderate. I like Yueh Feng, but the last movie was disappointing.


A Taste of Cold Steel is, like its title suggests, about an amazing sword that everyone wants to get their hands on. As soon as they see the radiant purple glow that emanates from it, they will stop at nothing to have it. It’s a slight variation on the theme of the martial world fighting over a world-class sword, but A Taste of Cold Steel sets itself apart in a couple of interesting ways.

First, the blade actually glows purple every time it’s unsheathed on-screen. People’s faces and everything around them glows marvelously purple; this is definitely a candidate for Prince’s favorite martial arts film (if he engages in such primal pleasures as this). It looks to have been achieved with a spotlight carefully highlighting the sword, but most of the time you can’t really tell and it looks quite fantastic and realistic.

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The Golden Knight (1970)

The Golden Knight [金衣大俠] (1970)
AKA Nine Golden Knights

Starring Lily Ho Li-Li, Kao Yuen, Fan Mei-Sheng, Shu Pei-Pei, Hung Lau, Cheng Miu, Ku Feng, Wong Ching Ho, Lan Wei-Lieh, Cheung Chok Chow, Wang Hsieh, Lee Siu-Chung, Chuen Yuen, Yeung Yip-Wang, Hsu Yu

Directed by Griffin Yueh Feng

Expectations: High, been waiting for the next Yueh Feng movie for what seems like forever.


The Golden Knight is the perfect example of a martial arts film that would have been great if it had been made a few years later. If that were the case, the boring fights would’ve been exciting, and the great backstory about stolen kung fu manuals and murdered masters would’ve delivered something truly spectacular. To be fair, there’s a good number of films from this era that do just that though, so The Golden Knight doesn’t really have an excuse. I guess I’ll just chalk it up to Griffin Yueh Feng looking to make more of a throwback, story-focused wuxia film while incorporating some elements of the newly rising kung fu genre.

The Golden Knight is not really about a golden knight as you might expect. It’s about Yu Fei Xia, an orphaned swordswoman accused of murdering members of the Golden Knight organization to get revenge for her father’s murder. She’s under the impression that the clan leaders all got together and murdered her dad, but there’s definitely more than meets the eye in this twisting, overly complicated story. Along the way to the truth she meets up with one of the golden knights (Kao Yuen) who believes her story and tries to help her.

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The Bells of Death (1968)

The Bells of Death [奪魂鈴] (1968)

Starring Chang Yi, Chin Ping, Chiu Sam-Yin, Lam Kau, Tin Sam, Ku Feng, Yeung Chi Hing, Lee Wan Chung, Wu Ma, Hung Lau, Nam Wai-Lit, Shum Lo

Directed by Griffin Yueh Feng

Expectations: High. I’m becoming a big fan of Griffin Yueh Feng.


It’s films like The Bells of Death that keep me at this ambitious and lengthy chronological journey through the catalog of Shaw Brothers films. Before starting, the name Griffin Yueh Feng meant nothing to me but after seeing two of his films I learned to expect great visuals and some exciting filmmaking. In Chang Cheh’s memoir he mentions Yueh as helping to raise the standards of the Chinese film industry with his 1949 films A Forgotten Woman & Blood Will Tell. Good luck seeing either of those so I’ll have to take Chang’s word for it, but from the evidence on display in the films I have seen, it makes perfect sense. The Bells of Death is not only the best Griffin Yueh Feng film I’ve seen yet, it’s also the only film I’ve reviewed in this series that strongly gives Chang Cheh’s films of the era a run for their money.

The story in The Bells of Death is a pretty standard revenge tale, but it’s told so well and with such flair that it’s easy to forgive its familiarity. And really, is a good revenge tale a fault? I don’t think so. The film opens with three ruthless bandits slaughtering a country family and taking the eldest daughter with them for their pleasures. What they didn’t know is that the woodcutter they passed on the way to the house was the eldest brother of the family and when he returns home, he finds the carnage they left. This begins his quest for revenge and oh boy is it a good one.

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The Magnificent Swordsman (1968)

The Magnificent Swordsman [怪侠] (1968)
AKA Vagabond Swordsman

Starring Wong Chung-Shun, Shu Pei-Pei, Tien Feng, Cheng Miu, Ngai Ping-Ngo, Fan Mei-Sheng, Ma Ying, Chiu Hung, Shum Lo, Chai No, Ng Wai, Lee Ka-Ting, Cheng Kang-Yeh, Yau Lung

Directed by Griffin Yueh Feng & Cheng Kang

Expectations: Fairly high. Griffin Yueh Feng delivered a pretty good looking film before in Rape of the Sword.


While many martial arts films are influenced by Sergio Leone’s westerns, I don’t think I’ve ever seen one as deeply indebted to the genre like The Magnificent Swordsman is. The film is a mash-up of the stories from Leone’s A Fistful of Dollars and Kurosawa’s The Seven Samurai, resulting in a more Western-leaning Chinese version of Kurosawa’s Fistful of Dollars remake Yojimbo. Jesus, I need to take a moment after deciphering that one. For the most part it works, but because everything has been done before (and better), The Magnificent Swordsman isn’t as good or exciting as it should be. Don’t get me wrong, the film is entertaining and fun to watch, but the lack of originality really hurts this one from being the film it could have been for viewers that have seen the films mentioned. On the other hand, if you haven’t seen those (and why the hell haven’t you?), then you’re likely to get a lot more out of The Magnificent Swordsman than I did.

The direction from Griffin Yueh Feng and Cheng Kang is very good, filling the frame in interesting ways and with intriguing angles. Like Yueh Feng’s previous film Rape of the Sword, it exhibits a very defined style with all the snap zooms and whip pans you’d expect from a Shaw Bros. film. The difference is that I feel Yueh Feng was one of the influential guys in creating what would become that “standard Shaw Bros shooting style” as his films feature it throughout with confidence and passion, while other Shaw films of the era merely flirt with the techniques.

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