The Fugitive (1972)

thefugitive_3The Fugitive [亡命徒] (1972)

Starring Lo Lieh, Ku Feng, Li Ching, Lee Ga-Sai, Ding Sai, Tang Ti, Dean Shek Tin, Lee Pang-Fei, Chu Gam, Tong Tin-Hei, Sek Kin, Chan Shen

Directed by Chang Tseng-Chai

Expectations: Moderate and hopeful.

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Due to their grindhouse status in the West, Shaw Brothers films are often looked down upon as B-Movies. I firmly disagree and I try to reflect this opinion in my reviews of the films. But some of their films are definitely B-Movie material, and The Fugitive is a perfect example. While it is a great little action movie, it has a threadbare story and is so over-the-top at times that you could never take it seriously. These things matter in many films, but in a B-Movie these are the cherries on top. And The Fugitive is pretty damn cherry-tastic.

The film opens on a wanted poster depicting the feared outlaws Liao Fei Lung (Lo Lieh) and Ma Tien Piao (Ku Feng). These very same men ride into town and hold up the bank. Things don’t exactly go to plan, but these bandits are not your average bank robbers — they are experts in horseback riding and marksmanship! The bandits easily shoot their way out of town with the spoils of the robbery.

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The Imperial Swordsman (1972)

imperialswordsman_1The Imperial Swordsman [大內高手] (1972)

Starring Shu Pei-Pei, Chuen Yuen, Yue Wai, Cheng Miu, Tung Li, Lee Wan-Chung, Tang Ti, Wong Chung-Shun, Liu Wai, Lee Pang-Fei, Chan Shen, Kam Kong, Woo Wai, Siu Wa, Ma Ying, Tong Tin-Hei

Directed by Lin Fu-Ti

Expectations: High.

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The Imperial Swordsman is a seriously ambitious film, one that reaches so high that it would be almost impossible to achieve what it sets out to do. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Shaws saw this film as something of a test run for more ambitious FX-filled films that would follow in its wake. As such, it showcases some excellent and beautiful model work that helps to broaden the scale of the film immensely, setting the scene with grand fortresses built atop mountain cliffs that tower above deep, flowing rivers.

Set during the Ming Dynasty, the emperor has learned that one of his own is working with the Mongolians in an attempt to invade China and take over the country. To stop this devious plot, the four imperial swordsmen (played by Shu Pei-Pei, Yue Wai, Lee Wan-Chung & Liu Wai) are deployed to recover evidence of the traitor and bring him to justice while he’s traveling. The Chief Imperial Inspector Yin Shu-Tang (Chuen Yuen) has already been working in the area, so they are to join up with him and thwart the traitor (who is hoping to hideout with his bandit buddies in their mountain fortress).

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The Casino (1972)

TheCasino+1972-60-bThe Casino [吉祥賭坊] (1972)

Starring Yueh Hua, Lily Ho Li-Li, Chin Feng, Chiang Nan, Fan Mei-Sheng, Tang Ti, Lee Pang-Fei, Chan Chan-Kong, Sek Kin, Ma Chien-Tang, Yee Kwan, Yi Fung, Wu Ma

Directed by Chang Tseng-Chai

Expectations: Optimistic.

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The Casino was one of the earliest Hong Kong gambling movies. It’s not a full-on gambling film, though, it’s more of a martial arts/gambling hybrid. But don’t despair, that mix makes for some truly exciting, tense entertainment. At only 77 minutes, The Casino is jam-packed full of intense melodrama that never lets up. It’s definitely an unsung gem of this era of Hong Kong film, as prior to researching it for this review series, I had never heard of this one.

The film opens in the titular casino, following the frustrations of a down-on-his-luck gambler (Wu Ma) as he attempts to win at the dice game. He ultimately leaves with less than he came in with, as completely strapped for cash, the man offered up his hand as collateral for his final wager. Didn’t work out so well for him. On his way out of the casino, he runs into Luo Tianguang (Yueh Hua). Luo is suave and well-dressed, but he watches the fleeing gambler with a knowing look. I initially imagined that the tale might end up with Luo succumbing to the evils of gambling and ending up like this man he encounters at the start, but it isn’t like that at all. No, Luo Tianguang definitely has other things on his mind, and this quick glance of what gambling can do to people seems to steel his resolve.

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Duel for Gold (1971)

duelforgold_1Duel for Gold [火併] (1971)

Starring Ivy Ling Po, Wang Ping, Chin Han, Lo Lieh, Richard Chan Chun, Fan Mei-Sheng, Lee Pang-Fei, Chung Wa, Tong Tin-Hei, Yeung Chak-Lam, Wong Wai, Law Hon, Lee Siu-Chung, Lau Kwan, Unicorn Chan, Simon Chui Yee-Ang

Directed by Chor Yuen

Expectations: I’m so excited.

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In his first film with the Shaw Brothers, director Chor Yuen emerges immediately as a new force in the genre, painting visual pictures and telling a thrilling story unlike anything seen yet in the Shaw Brothers catalog. Duel for Gold was by no means his first film (he had already made 67 films since starting directing in 1957), and his experience behind the camera elevates this wuxia heist yarn to excellent heights. It is held back by some average choreography throughout a good portion of the film, but you can’t win them all. I especially look forward to his next film, The Killer, which features Yuen Woo-Ping’s first choreography work for the Shaw Brothers (working alongside his brother Yuen Cheung-Yan, already a Shaw Brothers choreographer).

But before we get too deep into the fights, Duel for Gold‘s story is equally important to its success. Written by the ever dependable Ni Kuang, Duel for Gold is exactly what it sounds like, a duel among thieves and the security force of the Fu Lai Security Bureau for 100,000 taels of gold. The film opens as the credits come on-screen over slow-motion shots of battling heroes. But the focus is not on these warriors, instead the camera is focused on an incidental item in the foreground: a barren tree branch; a broken, bloody gravestone; the swaying grass. In between these shots are a bunch of quick cuts of the battle’s aftermath, of the carnage wrought by expertly handled swords and greed. And then the voice of a narrator directly addresses the audience, telling us that we’re right to assume the film is about men dying for money, and that what we’re seeing is the ending to the tale, but to indulge him as he tells us the story of how we got there.

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Lady With a Sword (1971)

LadyWithASwordLady With a Sword [鳳飛飛] (1971)

Starring Lily Ho Li-Li, James Nam Gung-Fan, Meng Yuen-Man, Wang Hsieh, Chai No, Lam Jing, Ou-Yang Sha-Fei, Lee Pang-Fei, Lee Hoi-Lung, Chen Feng-Chen, Lee Ho, Lei Lung, Goo Man-Chung

Directed by Kao Pao-Shu

Expectations: Pretty low, based on the poor title.

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You’ve no doubt heard the adage, “Don’t judge a book by its cover” before, but you also shouldn’t judge a foreign movie by its lazy English title. Many Hong Kong films feature translated titles very similar to their Chinese counterparts, but because Lady With a Sword was originally named after its hero, Feng Fei Fei, no real translation to English could be made. I imagine that whoever was in charge of the English titles at Shaw Brothers decided to slap on the first thing they came up with and call it a day. So we’re stuck with Lady With a Sword, one of the most boring titles for a film ever.

Although, as the film played I kept rolling the title around in my head, trying to uncover some justification for why someone would slap it on this film (other than the fact that it is indeed about a lady with a sword). Film companies ultimately want to make money, so you’d think they’d want to use a title that relates in some way. By the end of the film, I had come around to it not being that bad of a title because at its heart, Lady With a Sword is about the mothering instinct and how when pushed, a female is not only capable of anything a man is, they are capable of more because of that instinctual ability to throw all caution aside to protect their loved ones. There had been many previous swordswomen films, but this one dared to actually treat them like women with distinct traits and desires, instead of a gender-neutral person that many mistake for a man.

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Duel of Fists (1971)

duel of fistsDuel of Fists [拳擊] (1971)
AKA Striking Fist, Duel of Fist

Starring David Chiang, Ti Lung, Ching Li, Chan Sing, Ku Feng, Woo Wai, Parwarna Liu Lan-Ying, Wong Chung, Yeung Chi-Hing, Cheng Miu, Tang Ti, Yau Ming, Lee Pang-Fei

Directed by Chang Cheh

Expectations: Very high.

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Duel of Fists is similar to The Anonymous Heroes in that it’s ultimately a minor Chang Cheh film, but that doesn’t stop it from being highly entertaining and interesting in its own right. Despite having a similar title to The Duel, the story in Duel of Fists is much more straightforward. But where Duel of Fists breaks ground and offers Chang Cheh another opportunity to step up his game is in its location shooting, taking the Shaw team on the road to Bangkok and offering up the exotic sights of 1970s Thailand to enthrall viewers. The film also explores the subculture surrounding the Muay Thai boxing circuit, becoming one of the first, if not the first, film to feature the style. I can’t find any information on any films prior to this that featured Muay Thai, but as info is hard to come by on these films I think it’s best to say it’s “one of the first” instead of making unfounded, broad claims.

The film opens at Songkran, the Thai New Year festival traditionally held from April 13th–15th and celebrated by throwing water on random strangers. We are given a taste of things to come, before being quickly whisked back to Hong Kong, where David Chiang plays a civil engineer. One day, his father confesses on his deathbed that he once had an affair with a Thai girl during one of his business trips, and he asks David to find his half-brother that he never knew he had. So off Chiang goes, and we go with him to experience the exotic culture and country, as well as a different breed of martial arts film.

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The Swift Knight (1971)

SwiftKnight+1971-23-bThe Swift Knight [來如風] (1971)

Starring Lo Lieh, Margaret Hsing Hui, Chin Han, Fang Mian, Wang Hsieh, Chai No, Tung Lam, Wong Chung-Shun, Fan Mei-Sheng, Yip Bo-Kam, Shum Lo, Chan Shen, Lee Pang-Fei, Hsu Yu, Nau Nau

Directed by Cheng Chang Ho

Expectations: Moderately high.

threehalfstar


While The Swift Knight starts out as a simple wuxia film that is seemingly inspired by the Robin Hood tale (as many are, although I’m sure there’s a Chinese equivalent that they’re actually based on), it quickly reveals itself to be a very different type of film than your standard Shaw Brothers fare. This is both a blessing and a curse, as it’s admirable for breaking parts of the mold and trying something different, but it also feels like something less than it could be because of this. In any case, The Swift Knight is overwhelmingly impressive, and a brisk watch for wuxia fans.

Lo Lieh plays the titular character with all the charisma you’ve come to expect from him. This was one of those rare good guy roles for him, and as with anything he’s given, he does a great job. But strangely enough in a film titled after his character, there’s actually a fair amount of focus on the characters that aren’t swift, or knights, or the Swift Knight. This is one of the major failing points of the film for me, because there’s not nearly enough Lo Lieh to satiate my desires. But in a film as fun as this, this is something of a moot point.

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