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
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.
Pursuit might not be the large-scale production that The Water Margin was, but it is a perfect companion piece. Seeing the story of Lin Chong come to life in such vivid detail only makes me wish there were thrilling solo films for every one of the 108 Liang Shan bandits. The trials that Lin Chong suffers, while menacing villains pursue him across mountains, through dark forests and over snow-covered fields, are plentiful, tortuous and affecting. Pursuit is a great motion picture that transcends its genre to become a genuinely great film.
Next up in this chronological jaunt through the Shaw Brothers Martial Arts catalog is the first appearance of notable Shaw director Sun Chung! It’s his first film for the studio, and his second directorial effort overall: The Devil’s Mirror! See ya then!