The Lizard (1972)

thelizard_1The Lizard [壁虎] (1972)

Starring Yueh Hua, Connie Chan Po-Chu, Lo Lieh, Yeung Chi-Hing, Goo Man-Chung, Lydia Shum, Cheng Kang-Yeh, Chan Ho, Ou-Yang Sha-Fei, Wu Ma, Choi Yuen-Ping, Ma Chien-Tang, Chung Wa

Directed by Chor Yuen

Expectations: Moderate.

threestar


Director Chor Yuen’s previous film in this review series was the multi-genre masterpiece Intimate Confessions of a Chinese Courtesan, and with The Lizard he applies the same principles to different genres. The Lizard is a simple film on the surface, but once it gets rolling it reveals itself as a fairly dense hybrid film, mainly mashing kung fu together with comedy. There were Shaw Bros martial arts films that had some laughs prior to this, but none that go directly for the laughs throughout like The Lizard. So, at least in terms of the Shaw output, this is most likely the first attempt at a true kung fu comedy.

For this alone, The Lizard is notable and actually kind of subversive for its day; as Chang Cheh was pushing the martial arts genre forward into dramatic, male-dominated bashers with each subsequent film, Chor Yuen dared to go in a completely different direction. The Lizard takes a well-worn wuxia storyline (the tale of a Robin Hood-like masked figure) and transports it to the modern era. Chor Yuen then adds a couple tablespoons of romance, a pinch of thriller, a dollop of the casino film (actually outright stealing the ability to accurately hear dice rolling from The Casino‘s main character, who was also played by Yueh Hua), and a few sprinkles of wuxia so that his characters can leap around the wonderfully constructed Shaw Bros. sets.

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Intimate Confessions of a Chinese Courtesan (1972)

IntimateConfessionsofaChineseCourtesan_1Intimate Confessions of a Chinese Courtesan [愛奴] (1972)
AKA Ainu

Starring Lily Ho Li-Li, Betty Pei Ti, Yueh Hua, Tung Lam, Man Chung-San, Fan Mei-Sheng, Goo Man-Chung, Chan Shen, Fang Mian, Chan Ho, Sze-Ma Wah-Lung, Lee Ho, Hoh Gong

Directed by Chor Yuen

Expectations: Very high.

fourstar


If you boil it down to its bare elements, Intimate Confessions of a Chinese Courtesan is a simple revenge story. At the same time, it’s something of a revisionist version of the simple revenge story, as the film’s plot plays out far different than any previous Shaw Brothers revenge film (and believe me, there were a lot of those!). The film is also gorgeously well-directed by the one and only Chor Yuen, who is able to construct an artful, rousing melodrama from the base elements of a trashy genre film. It’s something to behold.

The film begins with a green-tinted sequence where an investigator (Yueh Hua) questions a man who found a dead body. The end of the scene connects us to a time years prior, where, now in full color, we are shown the film’s title and a sequence full of slow motion and sheer fabric. The woman at the center of this scene is Lady Chun (Betty Pei Ti), a madam who rules her profitable brothel with a figurative iron fist (gotta make that clear in a Shaw Bros film!). This particular day is a fateful one, as Lady Chun receives a newly kidnapped shipment of young girls, one of which is the divinely beautiful Ainu (Lily Ho Li-Li).

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The 14 Amazons (1972)

14amazons_1The 14 Amazons [十四女英豪] (1972)

Starring Ivy Ling Po, Lisa Lu, Lily Ho Li-Li, Yueh Hua, Fan Mei-Sheng, Wong Chung-Shun, Lo Lieh, Tien Feng, Wang Hsieh, Shu Pei-Pei, Wang Ping, Lau Ng-Kei, Karen Yip Leng-Chi, Li Ching, Tina Chin Fei, Ou-Yang Sha-Fei, Wong Gam-Fung, Betty Ting Pei, Teresa Ha Ping, Chen Yan-Yan, Lin Jing, Bolo Yeung, Goo Man-Chung, James Nam Gung-Fan, Tin Ching, Paul Chun Pui, Yeung Chi-Hing, Cheng Miu, Chung Wa

Directed by Cheng Kang

Expectations: Very high. This is one of the greats, right?

fourstar


The 14 Amazons is a true Shaw epic, bringing together a large ensemble cast and a well-known, classic Chinese tale just like The Water Margin had done a few months earlier in 1972. The two films are epics of different proportions, though, and feel almost nothing alike. Where The Water Margin is a small slice of a larger tale (and it feels it), The 14 Amazons feels meatier and more contained (even though it is also part of a larger story). But to compare the two films is wrongheaded, as they complement each other instead of being in competition.

The 14 Amazons is based on the Generals of the Yang family group of stories that have been passed down through Chinese culture since as early as the 11th century. The film specifically tells the story of how the Yang family defended the western Song borders from the invading barbarians from Western Xia. We open on the battlefield as Commander Yang Tsung Pao (Chung Wa) is wounded and cornered without many options. Understanding his fate, he sends two of his generals, Chiao Ting Kuai (Fan Mei-Sheng) & Meng Huai Yuan (Wong Chung-Shun), to travel home to inform his family of his death and to ask for more troops to be sent to the border. They comply against their wishes to stay and help him, and here the film introduces us to the titular female characters.

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Pursuit (1972)

pursuit_4Pursuit [林沖夜奔] (1972)

Starring Yueh Hua, Wong Gam-Fung, Fan Mei-Sheng, Paul Chun Pui, Go Ming, Yeung Chi-Hing, Wong Chung-Shun, Chiu Hung, Lee Siu-Chung, Tong Jing, Shum Lo, Mang Hoi

Directed by Cheng Kang

Expectations: High.

fourstar


Pursuit is a prequel of sorts to Chang Cheh’s The Water Margin, focused specifically on telling the story of Yueh Hua’s character, Lin Chong AKA Panther Head. Connecting your film to one of the greatest Chinese films of all-time is a tall order, but thankfully we have the talented, resolute hands of Cheng Kang guiding Pursuit. The film is supreme entertainment from start to finish, although the focus is more on heartbreaking drama than traditional Shaw Brothers action (though there is a good amount of that too).

Like many martial arts stories, a strong thread of brotherhood runs through Pursuit, but the main theme here is trust. The film opens many years before the events of The Water Margin, as Lin Chong returns home and happily greets his wife. He is a respected instructor for the Imperial guard, and everything in his life is seemingly perfect. Lin Chong accompanies his wife to the temple and runs into an old friend, Lu Zhishen AKA Flowery Monk (Fan Mei-Sheng). At this moment, Lin Chong decides that brotherhood is more important than escorting his wife, so he trusts that she will be fine while he shares a few drinks and stories with Lu Zhishen (who also appears in The Water Margin, portrayed by Pang Pang). Lin Chong’s trust in the good of man is misplaced, though, as he returns to the temple to find the son of the Imperial Commander, Gao Yanei, attempting to rape his wife. He stops Gao, but this also sets into motion the ruination of Lin Chong’s life as he knows it.

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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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Black Magic (1975)

BlackMagic_1Black Magic [降頭] (1975)

Starring Ti Lung, Lo Lieh, Lily Li Li-Li, Ku Feng, Tanny Tien Ni, Goo Man-Chung, Lee Sau-Kei, Yueh Hua, Chen Ping, Lam Wai-Tiu

Directed by Ho Meng-Hua

Expectations: High! I love black magic movies and this is basically where they all started!

threestar


If only I had seen this a few years ago, I know I would have enjoyed it even more. As it is, Black Magic is a fun black magic romp, but it’s hard not to think of later films that go so far over the top that you forget just where the top was in the aftermath. But that’s no fault of Black Magic itself, and any self-respecting fan of black magic films owes it to themselves to check out the film that spawned countless imitators and an entire sub-genre of Hong Kong horror films.

Black Magic was written by notable Shaw scribe Ni Kuang, and within just the first few minutes his script sets out the basic formula for just about every black magic movie I’ve ever seen. A woman visits a black magic practitioner named Sha Jianmai (played expertly by Ku Feng), seeking revenge against her man who is cheating on her. She asks for a death curse on both her former sweetheart and his mistress, and Sha Jianmai is more than happy to oblige. Adulterous love (or as the opening text calls it “Excessive Sex”) is something that does not pay off in black magic movies. But after the spell has been wrought, a local practitioner of good magic is brought in to investigate the couple’s deaths. He looks about, says a few chants, and before you know it Sha Jianmai is slicing his tongue with a blade and pasting paper wards all over the walls of his shack, his blood smeared all over them.

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