Marco Polo (1975)

Marco Polo [馬哥波羅] (1975)
AKA The Four Assassins

Starring Alexander Fu Sheng, Chi Kuan-Chun, Bruce Tong Yim-Chaan, Phillip Kwok Chun-Fung, Richard Harrison, Shih Szu, Lo Dik, Gordon Liu Chia-Hui, Leung Kar-Yan, Johnny Wang Lung-Wei, Li Tong-Chun, Carter Wong, Tang Tak-Cheung, Ting Wa-Chung, Chang I-Fei, Lee Ying, Chan Wai-Lau, Han Chiang

Directed by Chang Cheh

Expectations: Very high. New Chang Cheh always gets me excited.


It’s fair to assume that a film titled Marco Polo would be centered around Marco Polo, the trader who became a trusted advisor to Kublai Khan, the Mongol leader who completed the conquest of the Song Dynasty and established the Yuan Dynasty. In Chang Cheh’s film, though, Polo is merely a small component. He is at the heart of the plot, but he honestly doesn’t do much more than glare at some people now and then. This really bothered me, and I spent a good portion of the movie trying to understand why the film might be titled after a character who does so little. I eventually came to a conclusion (which I’ll get around to), but it’s one that will require a second viewing to fully appreciate. At this juncture, I’d call it an uncharacteristically weak film for Chang Cheh, which is to say that I liked it a lot instead of flat-out loving it. 🙂

Upon returning from a three-year mission, Marco Polo presents a report of his travels to Kublai Khan. Meanwhile, a pair of Chinese rebels make their way into the court and attempt to assassinate the Khan. One is killed, and the other, Zu Jianmin (Carter Wong), manages to escape. Since he is injured and cannot move too quickly, the Khan asks Marco Polo and his three personal bodyguards (Gordon Liu, Leung Kar-Yan & Johnny Wang Lung-Wei) to kill Zu and his allies when he reaches his home. This proves to be a bit harder than anticipated, as Zu’s four sworn brothers (Alexander Fu Sheng, Chi Kuan-Chun, Bruce Tong Yim-Chaan & Phillip Kwok Chun-Fung) escape and begin harsh training to improve their martial arts skills.

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Deaf and Mute Heroine (1971)

Deaf and Mute Heroine [聾啞劍] (1971)

Starring Helen Ma Hoi-Lun, Tang Ching, Shirley Wong Sa-Lee, Wu Ma, Lee Ying, Paul Wei Ping-Ao, Yeung Wai, Tang Ti, Hao Li-Jen

Directed by Wu Ma

Expectations: Moderate.

threehalfstar


Deaf and Mute Heroine is exactly the type of movie I hope for when I delve deep into the obscure and forgotten films of the past. Not only is it an entertaining film, it delivers one of the best wuxia finales of the era. The last 15 or so minutes are non-stop, and stuffed full of incredible, impressive wuxia filmmaking. It all feels so ahead of its time too, at least in terms of the amount of wuxia fantasy that is attempted and realized on-screen.

The film opens with a fight, as the Deaf Mute Heroine defeats a set of bandits and steals their booty of 300 pearls. These pearls set in motion the villains’ desire to hunt down and kill the Deaf Mute Heroine, as well as the other components of the story. But don’t be fooled into thinking that Deaf and Mute Heroine has an actual story! We’re supposed to be content with just knowing that the Deaf Mute Heroine is a force of good in the world, working to thwart these evildoers by stealing their pearls. Anything else, including any backstory on the main character, is to be supplied by your imagination.

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The Monkey Goes West (1966)

The Monkey Goes West [西遊記] (1966)

Starring Yueh Hua, Ho Fan, Pang Pang, Tin Sam, Fan Mei-Sheng, Kao Pao Shu, Nam Wai-Lit, Lee Ying, Diana Chang Chung-Wen, Chiu Sam-Yin

Directed by Ho Meng-Hua

Expectations: Moderately high. I’m insanely interested in this movie and the novel it’s based upon.


Journey to the West is one of the most influential and famous Chinese works of literature of all time. I’ve never read it myself, but years of watching Chinese cinema introduced me to the character of the Monkey King and the basic theme of the work. My knowledge of the actual book is vague, and a vague understanding of a 2,400 page book isn’t really understanding at all, is it? Due to my enjoyment of the Monkey King character, I’ve always been curious to see where he comes from and read the book. Then I found out that in the late 60s the Shaw Brothers and director Ho Meng-Hua cranked out a series of four films based upon the seminal work. It seemed like just the thing to dip my toes into the work without sitting down for the next couple of years trying to read my way through the over five hundred-year-old tale.

A Buddhist monk begins a perilous journey to the West, in search of important Buddhist scriptures. The only problem is that all the denizens of the dark, the demons and the undesirables, want one thing. To eat the flesh of the monk, as they believe it will provide them everlasting life. Along the way the monk Tang picks up three protectors to thwart these flesh-eating attackers: Monkey, a mischievous and magical creature that must learn to control his powers for good; Pigsy, an overweight glutton concerned primarily with any fine young females that come his way; and Sandy, a banished general of Heaven who now lives underwater. And let’s not forget the evil Dragon Prince transformed into the monk’s horse for the journey!

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Mini-Review: The Knight of Knights (1966)

The Knight of Knights [文素臣] (1966)

Starring Lily Ho Li Li, Kiu Chong, Cheng Lui, Cliff Lok Kam Tung, Lily Li Li-Li, Chen Hung Lieh, Lee Ying, Tang Ti, Feng Yi, Lee Wan Chung

Written by Chang Cheh

Directed by Hsih Chun

Expectations: Low.


The Knight of Knights features an early take on martial arts chivalry with its multi-layered story of evildoers masquerading as monks capturing women and raping them and the men that do what they can to stop them. It’s no surprise to see that the script comes from legendary director Chang Cheh, who worked and re-worked the martial chivalry plot throughout his career. Unfortunately Chang Cheh does not direct here, the duties falling instead to Hsih Chun. Hsih Chun’s work is capable but does nothing to excite or intrigue the viewer. Enjoyment of The Knight of Knights comes strictly from your love and tireless desire for old Shaw Brothers movies and their reused sets and gory dismemberments.

Yes, within the first three minutes there are two severed limbs and a sword slicing a guy’s face down the middle, so at least the film delivers on that promise. Kiu Chong is good as our main hero, but the real star of the show is Tang Ti who plays the Abbot of the temple and the leader of the raping villains. His on-screen presence is full of vigor and charm, made even more exciting by his final duel with Kiu Chong. The fight is short, and it may be kind of sloppy, but when Tang Ti controls his breathing to enlarge himself and starts leaving handprints in the bricks, you can rest assured that there’s a smile on this reviewer’s face. In the end that’s what really matters, no? Recommended to kung fu junkies looking for an origin movie to all those other chivalrous kung fu tales.




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