The Tea House (1974)

teahouse_1The Tea House [成記茶樓] (1974)
AKA The Teahouse

Starring Chen Kuan-Tai, Karen Yip Leng-Chi, Yeung Chi-Hing, Wong Yu, Fung Ging-Man, Lee Pang-Fei, Chung Chan-Chi, Lam Wai-Tiu, Lam Siu, Lee Sau-Kei, Cheung Chok-Chow, Liu Wu-Chi, Pang Pang, Shum Lo, Tung Lam, Wong Ching-Ho, Cheng Kang, Fan Mei-Sheng, Bruce Le

Directed by Kuei Chih-Hung

Expectations: High!

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Chen Kuan-Tai was a firmly established martial arts star when The Tea House was released, but it was his calm, powerful performance as Big Brother Cheng that cemented his status as a well-respected actor. The film was so popular — it reached #9 at the 1974 Hong Kong Box Office — that a sequel was made the following year titled after Chen’s character. Given the ending of The Tea House, I’m really excited to see where the sequel takes Big Brother Cheng. But to get back to The Tea House: it’s an interesting film, unlike really anything I’ve seen from the Shaw Studio.

The Tea House opens with a long tracking shot through the titular Cheng Chi Tea House, showing us what “normal” looks like at the establishment before unleashing the drama that will continually disrupt business throughout the film. But it’s not so much a movie that depends on its plot; it’s more concerned with commenting on the then-current state of juvenile delinquency and the justice system’s inability to properly deal with the problem. I’ve seen many Shaw films deal with delinquency, but The Tea House engages the problem in a complete unique and fresh manner. The film has a tendency to be episodic and not completely cohesive, but what holds it together is this thematic focus on how the film’s various groups handle punishment.

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The Generation Gap (1973)

GenerationGap_1The Generation Gap [叛逆] (1973)
AKA The Traitor

Starring David Chiang, Agnes Chan Mei-Ling, Ti Lung, Lo Dik, Yeung Chi-Hing, Lin Jing, Kong Ling, Johnston Wong Chan-Sin, Ricky Hui Koon-Ying, Shum Lo, Lee Pang-Fei, Dean Shek Tin, Lee Sau-Kei, Chiang Tao, Wong Pau-Gei, Helen Ko, Alexander Fu Sheng

Directed by Chang Cheh

Expectations: Moderate. I never know what to expect with Chang Cheh’s modern films.

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The Generation Gap is another entry into Chang Cheh’s collection of films about the troubled youth of Hong Kong, but this is perhaps his most successful at a dramatic level (at least up to this point chronologically). Does that mean it’s one to watch if you’re interested in dipping your toes into the modern films of Chang Cheh? I guess, although I think your enjoyment of it will directly relate to how much you love you already have for early ’70s Hong Kong film. But whatever, I can’t guess how and why someone else will like this movie, I can only speak for myself. And I liked it quite a lot.

The Generation Gap is about the romance between 21-year-old Ling Xi (David Chiang) and 16-year-old Cindy (Agnes Chan). Their parents both disapprove of the coupling for many reasons, but like all young lovers, they feel like they’ve found the best thing on Earth and their parents are being needlessly protective. The film charts the relationship as it grows and attempts to mature, and as you can imagine there are aspects of it that don’t go as planned (or dreamed) by the two lovebirds.

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The Villains (1973)

villains_1The Villains [土匪] (1973)

Starring Yueh Hua, Shih Szu, Chen Hung-Lieh, Cheng Miu, Chin Feng, Dean Shek Tin, Lee Pang-Fei, Chan Shen, Betty Pei Ti, Wong Ching-Ho

Directed by Chor Yuen

Expectations: High.

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I went into Chor Yuen’s The Villains without knowing whether it fit within the purview of my Shaw Brothers martial arts series or not, but I decided to give it a go anyway based on my affection for Chor Yuen’s previous films and that Yuen Woo-Ping and Yuen Cheung-Yan were listed as Action Directors on HKMDB. That same HKMDB listing also cites the film’s genre as action, but I had heard that it was actually more of a drama. Turns out it’s a bit of both, but drama is definitely the dominant genre. The action is merely there for flavor and color; it is not the focus in any way.

The film opens at a train station where Fang Zheng (Yueh Hua) is to pick up his cousin, Lin Xiao Hong (Shih Szu). Lin is coming to stay with Fang’s family after the death of her parents, even though there has been much turmoil and strife between the two sides of the family. And little does she know, she’s stepping into a hotbed of Fang household drama, too, where Master Fang (Cheng Miu) supports his delinquent, gambling son Fang Feng (Chen Hung-Lieh) and is somewhat ashamed of his honorable son Fang Zheng.

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Ambush (1973)

Ambush+1973-1-bAmbush [埋伏] (1973)

Starring Li Ching, Chiu Hung, Yeung Chi-Hing, Wang Hsieh, Dean Shek Tin, Kong Ling, Tung Lam, Lee Pang-Fei, Chan Shen, Pang Pang, Unicorn Chan, Lee Man-Chow, Sa Au

Directed by Ho Meng-Hua

Expectations: Moderate.

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Ambush is like a lot of the other martial arts films I’ve seen from director Ho Meng-Hua. It is a capable film, and it tells a good story, but it just doesn’t feel all that original or special. When you’re cranking out as many martial arts films as the Shaw Brothers were at this time, it makes sense that many of them might be like this, but a couple of things about Ambush help to differentiate it from previous mid-level Shaw films.

First, this was their first martial arts film of 1973, and by this point in their history the fight choreography is well beyond what you’d generally expect in something labeled “mid-range.” By modern standards it’s a little wonky, but regardless the fights of Ambush are plentiful and fun. Shaw veteran Simon Chui Yee-Ang handled the choreography himself this time and he does a great job of crafting quick-moving fights that showcase everything from fantastical wuxia feats, to basic swordplay, to the up-and-coming genre standard hand-to-hand work.

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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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