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 Invincible Eight (1971)

TheInvincibleEight+1971-85-bStarring Nora Miao, Tang Ching, Angela Mao, Paul Chang Chung, Lee Kwan, James Tin Jun, Lydia Shum, Pai Ying, Patrick Tse Yin, Han Ying Chieh

Directed by Lo Wei

Expectations: Moderately high. I’m eager to see the film that launched Golden Harvest.

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Sometime in 1970, Shaw Brothers executives Raymond Chow and Leonard Ho left the company to start up their own. They hoped to create a studio that would breed creativity instead of stifle it like they felt the Shaw Brothers did, and thus Golden Harvest was born. Many others defected from the Shaw camp as well, and on this film some of the notable people include director Lo Wei and martial arts choreographers Han Ying-Chieh and Sammo Hung. This focus on creativity isn’t so much in evidence in The Invincible Eight, but it does show itself over the studio’s history. And it was ultimately this focus that also allowed Golden Harvest to woo a young Bruce Lee away from a potential Shaw contract, writing martial arts film history when, later in 1971, Lo Wei directed the classic film The Big Boss.

With the short history lesson out of the way, I can now focus on The Invincible Eight. I had high hopes that this film would continue along the path of Lo Wei’s previous film Brothers Five, delivering creative, incredible martial arts action well ahead of its time. It succeeds in being entertaining, and being a fun wuxia film, but innovative it really isn’t. The Invincible Eight feels like it was made by a newly formed, upstart studio, as every single aspect of the production is a step down from the Shaw films from the same era. The film has tons of positives in its corner, but it’s hard to get past the fact that it would’ve been a lot more thrilling had it been made under the Shaw banner.

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Vengeance is a Golden Blade (1969)

Vengeance is a Golden Blade [飛燕金刀] (1969)

Starring Chin Ping, Yueh Hua, Tang Ching, Kao Pao Shu, Goo Man-Chung, Pang Pang, Lee Pang-Fei, Chiu Hung, Law Hon, Ngai Ping-Ngo, Wong Ching Ho, Hao Li-Jen, Tsang Choh-Lam

Directed by Ho Meng-Hua

Expectations: High. You can’t go wrong with that title, right?


The reason I made it a point to go through the Shaw Brothers films chronologically is because I knew that there was no way that one week I could review some early misstep like King Cat, followed by something akin to heaven like Five Element Ninjas, only to return to the slow-paced, melodrama of the late 60s. Sometimes I do venture outside of the era though, and this time specifically I had seen Merantau, Flash Point and The Raid all in between the last Shaw Brothers picture and this. I’m a professional though, so I didn’t let it undermine the experience of watching Vengeance is a Golden Blade, but it did shine a brilliant spotlight on just how underwhelming an experience it was.

Vengeance is a Golden Blade starts out as another in the long tradition of “the most badass sword” movies, such as The Sword of Swords, The Thundering Sword, etc. The masterpiece sword here is the Golden Dragon Sword, and it is pretty badass, slicing clean through every bit of metal swung its way. The intrigue involves the sword being stolen by a grave enemy, the hero being crippled and eighteen years passing before anyone gets down to any real vengeance. This is where the film gains its true star in Chin Ping, and, to a lesser extent, her childhood friend Yueh Hua. While this might sound like a great setup for a classic swordplay film, Vengeance is a Golden Blade is only merely average. It does tell an interesting story filled with twisty turns and devious betrayals, but for the most part it’s all pretty standard fare.

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Killers Five (1969)

Killers Five [豪俠傳] (1969)

Starring Tang Ching, Li Ching, Ku Feng, Cheng Miu, Wang Kuang-Yu, Tang Ti, Yeung Chi Hing, Carrie Ku Mei, Ou-Yang Sha-Fei, Tien Feng, Lau Leung-Wa, Wong Ching-Wan, Poon Oi-Lun

Directed by Cheng Kang

Expectations: High. Cheng Kang usually delivers.


The Duke’s daughter has been kidnapped by bandits! Are you a bad enough dude to rescue the duke’s daughter? That’s the question asked of our heroes in Killers Five and the answer is a resounding yes. Killers Five is debatably the best martial arts/action film to be produced by the Shaw Brothers up to this point. It includes everything I could want in a movie, providing entertainment at every turn. I went in expecting fights and intrigue, but I also got fun & charismatic characters, wonderful performances, awesome traps, suspenseful thrills, shocking double-crosses, over-the-top gore and absolute sophistication behind the camera. This movie is just flat-out awesome.

Unlike so many 60s Shaw Brothers martial arts films, Killers Five doesn’t fuck around with lengthy plot exposition and slow-moving narrative. The duke’s daughter is kidnapped and within a minute or so, our main hero played by Tang Ching is on a quest to create a martial team badass enough to take on the evil bandit lord Jin Tianlong (Tang Ti) who’s taken the duke daughter to his fortress on Mt. Jinlong. The film takes on something of a Western vibe, or even The Seven Samurai, during this section as the hero travels around the countryside collecting the best people for the job.

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The Jade Raksha (1968)

The Jade Raksha [玉罗刹] (1968)

Starring Cheng Pei Pei, Tang Ching, Yeung Chi Hing, Fan Mei-Sheng, Ku Feng, Wong Ching-Wan, Lui Hung, Man Sau, Nam Wai-Lit, Siu Lam-Wun, Kong Lung

Directed by Ho Meng-Hua

Expectations: High, Ho Meng-Hua usually delivers.


The Jade Raksha is just another Cheng Pei-Pei revenge movie on the surface, but there is something a little more interesting than that underneath its clichéd exterior. While the fights are nothing particularly special and the choreography is even less notable, the twists and the turns of the script and the character’s journey really do work their way into your heart and by the end you’re reveling in wonderful secrets finally exposed and smiling right along with the characters. This one’s definitely only for the fans, but those that seek it out will find a competent, fun movie, even if it is somewhat average and forgettable overall.

Cheng Pei-Pei plays the Jade Raksha, a swordswoman out for revenge posing as a legendary ghost to get to her victims. She goes around the countryside murdering anyone with the surname Yan, because when she was a small child, a man bearing that name killed her entire family and left her for dead. Early in the film she meets up with the savvy Xu Ying Hao (Tang Ching), who quickly identifies her and strikes up a friendship. Xu has a quest of his own, to find the man who murdered his father many years prior. The two vengeance seekers quickly find that their task won’t be as straightforward as they thought, when friendships and allegiances get in the way.

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The Magic Blade (1976)

The Magic Blade [天涯明月刀] (1976)

Starring Ti Lung, Lo Lieh, Ku Feng, Tang Ching, Ching Li, Lily Li Li-Li, Fan Mei-Sheng, Chan Shen

Directed by Chor Yuen

Expectations: High.


My expectations for this were just soaring after watching Shaolin Intruders. The two films have absolutely nothing to do with each other except that they’re both Shaw Bros. pictures and Tang Chia choreographed the fights, but you could connect most any Shaw Bros. film with that logic. Needless to say, I was let down. The Magic Blade is an interesting movie as it doesn’t really contain a magic blade. You might expect there to be one in a film titled The Magic Blade, but not in this film. There is the rather neato blade that Ti Lung uses throughout the film, but magic isn’t exactly the adjective I’d use to describe it. It’s on a harness attached to his arm that allows it to spin when he wants it to, but it isn’t really used all that much in the film so don’t get too worked up about it. This is possible magic blade candidate number one. Number two is where I’m placing my money though, as the film revolves around everyone trying to get a hold of it. The weapon in question is the mysterious Peacock Dart, a weapon so powerful that — well, I’ll let them explain it.

“The Dart when hurled, emits mysterious and beautiful rays, and the victim dies in a mysterious way.”

“And no one is immune to it.”

After which the dart is thrown, resulting in multiple explosions of light and smoke that very conveniently kill only the hero’s enemies. No one is immune to movie logic either I guess. Anyway I don’t mean to complain, that shit was fun to watch.

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