Village of Tigers [惡虎村] (1974)
Starring Yueh Hua, Shu Pei-Pei, Karen Yip Leng-Chi, Tung Lam, Wang Hsieh, Tang Ti, Chan Shen, Ng Wai, Tung Li, Tong Tin-Hei, Chan Ho, Lan Wei-Lieh, Wan Chung-Shan
Directed by Griffin Yueh Feng & Wong Ping
Expectations: Moderate, but I generally like Griffin Yueh Feng’s work.
My chronological review series of the Shaw Brothers martial arts films enters 1974 not with a bang but a whimper. Well, whimper is probably a little strong. Village of Tigers is relatively entertaining, but a 79-minute movie should never feel as long as this one does. Its problems are myriad, its intrigue is slight; it’s the kind of wuxia to see when you’ve exhausted a lot of the better options. The finale is of markedly better quality than the rest of the movie, but even this is not enough to save this rather sedate wuxia from mediocrity.
The story’s lack of focus is one of its major issues, and I could easily describe most of the movie in an attempt to provide even a quick summary. Basically, the titular Village of Tigers is the home to a huge group of bandits who like to go around and pillage. On this particular day, they’re concerned with bumping off the Sword of the Southern Sky, Luo Hong-Xun (Yueh Hua). Meanwhile, Bao Ying Hua (Karen Yip Leng-Chi) is on her way to Wild Date Peak for her grandma’s birthday party, and 9th Miss (Shu Pei-Pei), Bao’s cousin, has discovered that her brother Ba Jie (Tung Li) is in league with the bandits holed up at the Village of Tigers.
The action comes to us courtesy of Simon Chui Yee-Ang. He’s something of a hit-and-miss choreographer for me. When he’s great, he’s fantastic, but he has some mediocre stuff, too. Village of Tigers encompasses this full range of choreography. We get everything from fast, exciting, fun fights to lame and rather abstract representations of martial arts. Even when the action is at its best (such as the varied and lengthy finale, or the Shu Pei-Pei/Karen Yip fight), it’s great but rarely memorable. Perhaps the most inspired bit of choreography comes around the middle when Yueh Hua comes up against a group of bandits and bests them mostly by dodging to avoid their sword strikes.
What does stick in my mind are the exceptionally inventive wuxia feats and the moments of gore. Both are quick ways for a Shaw film to impress me, so it’s something of a disappointment that a film with so many great, small moments is overall such a mediocre movie. I mean, how can a movie that has Yueh Hua flicking nuts into the faces of a couple of ne’er-do-wells be mediocre? Or a villain that throws Shu Pei-Pei to his buddy who catches her on his outstretched palm and spins her like she was dough at the Pizza Factory™? Yueh Hua throws a dude through the wall of a house, for God’s sake! Build a great movie around these amazing moments! And that’s not even mentioning the fun gore that comes up here and there.
Village of Tigers was co-directed by Griffin Yueh Feng and Wong Ping. It was veteran Yueh Feng’s final credit, and I wonder if Wong Ping was brought in to help him complete it (similar to how Yueh Feng helped Doe Ching complete Twin Blades of Doom). The description on HK Cinemagic suggests as much, but it’s the only reference to this that I can find. This is the only Shaw credit for Wong, who was primarily a sound editor who worked on many Golden Harvest films as well as some of the Lo Wei Jackie Chan films. In any case, the poor storytelling makes me suspect it was a troubled production; Yueh Feng has more than proved his ability to deliver a quality film with his past work. Regardless of the story issues, Village of Tigers is pretty solid in the camerawork department, often showing us fresh, interesting angles on the old sets that Shaw fans know and love.
It’s also worthwhile to mention that Village of Tigers is Shu Pei-Pei’s final film, and according to her bio on the HKMDB, she got married, had a kid and then worked for a travel agency for 20 years! I wonder if she ever did swordplay demonstrations for her co-workers or clients. 🙂 Santana fans will also get a kick out of Stanley Chow Fook-Leung’s reworking of Black Magic Woman into a funky, orchestral theme for our heroes to ride around to. And while I’m just listing random bits of trivia: future greats Sammo Hung, Jackie Chan, Yuen Wah and Mars are apparently all in the film as extras! I didn’t notice any of them, but I wasn’t really looking for them either. Keep your eyes peeled if you decide to give this one a shot!
There are much better wuxias than Village of Tigers, but I’m still going to recommend Shaw fans check it out because it does have a lot to good stuff mixed among the chaff. And who knows, you might like it better than I did!
Next up in this chronological journey through the Shaw Brothers Martial Arts catalog is Chang Cheh’s Heroes Two! It’s a dope movie and I’m looking forward to watching it again in this chronological context. See ya then!