Starring Ti Lung, David Chiang, Tin Ching, Lau Gong, Bruce Tong Yim-Chaan, Fan Mei-Sheng, Yue Fung, Dean Shek Tin, Wu Chi-Chin, Yeung Chak-Lam, Lo Dik, Wang Kuang-Yu, Cheng Kang-Yeh, Ko Hung, Yuan Man-Tzu, Wong Ching-Ho
Directed by Chang Cheh, Wu Ma & Pao Hsueh-Li
Expectations: High. Pirates, Ti Lung, David Chiang, and Chang Cheh? How can I not be pumped?
I didn’t know quite what to expect going into The Pirate, but it’s safe to say that the opening sequence fulfilled pretty much every expectation I had. The film commences with a naval battle between a British ship and a Chinese pirate ship. The pirate captain is none other than Ti Lung, playing the chivalrous pirate Chang Pao-Chai, who was a real pirate in the 19th Century. Ti Lung performs like a Chinese Errol Flynn, athletically swinging from ropes and laying waste to everyone in his path with ease after the pirates board the British ship. I’ve loved the swashbuckling good times of Flynn and Douglas Fairbanks for years, so as soon as the film started it had me right in its pocket. (Do pirates have pockets?)
Having fulfilled the average moviegoer’s idea of a pirate movie, the film is free to reveal its true nature. It’s not so much about smuggling or thieving, as it is a drama about morality. Written by that ever-resourceful scribe Ni Kuang, The Pirate slowly introduces multiple factions that each have their own goals and desires. Of course, they all intersect and conflict with one another as the plot unfurls, with two defined villains, two heroes who are also villains depending on your moral standpoint, and one neutral group that is at the mercy of the others’ whims. This landscape works to great effect in presenting the tortuous life of a pirate with enemies on all sides.
The Pirate is notably bloodless for a Chang Cheh film. This is probably a good indicator that either Wu Ma or Pao Hsueh Li actually directed the film, but I can’t find any actual info to corroborate this and Chang doesn’t mention The Pirate in his memoir. The confidence and quality of the overall film leads me towards Chang actually steering the ship, though, so who knows? Maybe on this one they all contributed equally, as they are credited together as “Jointly Director” instead of on two separate title cards like on The Water Margin.
I get the feeling that The Pirate isn’t that well-loved of a Shaw picture, but it’s every bit the first-rate film that the talent involved would suggest. This leaves me to think that it’s more of a question of access than dislike, but you’ve got no excuse now, as the film received its first home video appearance in the West just a few weeks back via iTunes and other digital platforms. So if you’ve never seen The Pirate, allow me to submit the film as one of the under-the-radar Shaw films you should make an effort to watch (or re-watch/re-evaluate, as the case may be).
Next up in this chronological journey through the Shaw Brothers Martial Arts catalog: Na Cha and the Seven Devils from directors Yamanouchi Tetsuya & Doi Michiyoshi! See ya then!