Mini-Review: That Man in Chang-An (1967)

That Man in Chang-An [幪面大俠] (1967)

Starring Fang Ying, Gam Jan-Fooi, Yen Chun, Allyson Chang Yen, Tang Ti, Tien Feng, Wong Ching Ho, Cheung Kwong Chiu, Piu Liu-Chik, Chiu Ming

Directed by Yen Chun

Expectations: Moderate.

That Man in Chang-An is yet another early Shaw Brothers film that gets as much wrong as it does right. It’s not a poorly made film by any stretch, but it suffers from being overlong and light on the action. The first hour is devoted mostly to setup with only a couple of small sequences of excitement, notably a wagon chase and a fight in the middle of the forest. Both scenes are excellent and are shot with an eye for enhancing the action through quality camera movement. There’s also a fantastic opening sequence in which our hero, The Masked Man, infiltrates the enemy’s castle and steals an Imperial Edict.

The sets are as lavish and beautiful as the costumes, and it’s clear the picture was meant as a costume drama over anything else. The second half of the film does get more interesting with various escape plots and short battles with guards. One of these fights features an impressive horizontal tracking shot that follows the Masked Man as he lays waste to all comers. As you’d expect from an early Shaw film, the choreography leaves a lot to be desired, but the shot is electric nonetheless.

The final fight is pretty exciting though, thanks in part to the undercranked fast motion of the combatants. I’m not a big fan of this technique but it worked very well here to get things moving. At 111 minutes this is a lot longer than your average Shaw film and it feels like it, so any increase in speed is appreciated. There’s also a ton of gorgeous exterior shots that add a lot of flavor to the overall tone of the picture. Ultimately, this is another one strictly for those already attuned to the works of the Shaw Brothers.

6 comments to Mini-Review: That Man in Chang-An (1967)

  • Joshua Gotay

    This review sums the film up very succinctly, but one thing you forgot to mention was the part where this drunk bastard is supposed to be tending to this young girl’s injured tendons, but instead he starts giggling and kissing her feet.

    Nothing is lost in translation there. It becomes universally hilarious as she starts screaming and he unintentionally yanks her off the bed entirely. Then, to top it all off, the feet-kissing worked – she can walk again! As I got through this list, I can see why Quentin Tarantino loves these films.

    • Thanks, Joshua! Glad you stopped by and enjoyed the review. I must admit that I had forgotten about that scene, but I just went back and re-watched it and it all came back. It’s definitely a very funny scene! And that set is a real beaut, too, with that pond in the middle of the room and the raised bed.

      There’s definitely a lot of Shaw Brothers influence in QT’s work. I always wonder if their extensive use of music from Western movies has influenced his trademark of using music from other movies to score his own. There’s a bunch of ’70s Shaws that specifically use spaghetti western music, too, adding fuel to that theory.

      On a side note, it was personally interesting to me to go back and watch some of this movie (and pieces of a few others from the time frame) thanks to your comment. I’m almost done with 1971 now, so it was a great reminder just how far the genre had come in only five years. The choreography was especially jarring, I had forgotten just how rudimentary it was.

      • Joshua Gotay

        Speaking of Shaw Brothers’ influence on his work, some of the most of the striking similarities I’ve seen were in The Bells of Death (1968). This one film alone has two big cases. Around the beginning, the three bandits raid the village, killing the hero’s family – but, check out how it goes down.

        The bandits are in this cottage as the protagonist’s mother tries to retreat across the field. The main antagonist aims his arrow at her, which is already somewhat similar to the opening scene from Inglorious Basterds (2009) when Col. Hans Landa aims his pistol at Shoshanna; apart from the fact that this guy actually shoots the woman. But, what really gets interesting is that immediately after he shoots her, he and his cronies hear the other family members hiding under the floorboards and take it one step further and executes one of them through the floor! This isn’t even taking into account the POV shot of the three villains from the hole in the floor – which is a whole lot like the “trunk shot” Tarantino has used over the years.

        And that’s just one. The other one is very Django Unchained (2012). Around the end of the movie, when the protagonist makes it to the final antagonist and fakes his way into his dining hall, the protagonist’s kidnapped sister shows up and the antagonist notices it just like Stephen noticing Broomhilda – which is again, taken a step further when the bad guy goes to the side and grills her about it immediately afterwards.

        Maybe these are common tropes in revenge films? I don’t know. But, they definitely caught my eye.

        • Ah man, very astute observations! I don’t remember noticing either when I reviewed that one. I’ll have to look closer next time! These sorts of things seem like his kind of really obscure references that only a select few will pick up on, so I’m sure you’re onto something. There’s one in The New One-Armed Swordsman as well, where a bunch of blood sprays and the camera cuts to a shot of wheat and grass getting sprayed with the blood, just like the shot of the cotton that’s become one of the more iconic shots from Django Unchained.

  • Richard Li

    Another entertaining production from SB (maybe I’m little too generous!), the masked hero certainly hid his identity very well and his fleet footed fighting was awesome, raiding the enemy at here and there. I feel that the plot is slightly more sophisticated than previous films so this made it all the more entertaining. Action wise, this is very good. I’d recommend this one.

    • It’s possible you’re too generous with this one, but there’s nothing wrong with liking what you like! Your thoughts make me want to give it another chance.

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