The Protectors [鏢旗飛揚] (1975)
Starring Lo Lieh, Chang Pei-Shan, Wang Hsieh, Yeung Oi-Wa, Lee Sau-Kei, Chan Shen, Dean Shek Tin, Wong Ching, Chan Chuen, Wong Ching-Ho, Wu Chi-Chin
Directed by Wu Ma
As with quite a few of the films Shaw released in 1975, The Protectors was shot in 1971 and held back from release. The reasoning for this is up for anyone’s best guess, especially since it tells a complete, satisfying story with vibrant characters despite only running 62 minutes. Instead of making random speculations, I should focus on what’s here, and besides, The Protectors actually benefits from the extreme, barely feature-length brevity. It cooks the film down to its bare essentials, and since it’s a solid piece of work, it excels at entertaining in a way that only a good Shaw Brothers wuxia can.
The Eagle Escorts are known throughout the land as the security bureau to hire if you want to be sure your gold or silver arrives safely at its destination. The founder is aged and confined to his chair, but the company continues to thrive thanks to the skilled swords of Ling Xiao (Lo Lieh) and Guan Wang Long (Chang Pei-Shan). After another successful mission (that left tons of bandits dead on the trail), Ling and Guan return to headquarters. At the gate, welcoming them home, is Fang Yan Er (Yeung Oi-Wa), the object of Guan’s affection. She does not reciprocate these feelings, though, instead she is kind of infatuated with Ling. From his reaction, this is not the first time Guan has felt jilted, and this resentment is near the point of explosion.
The solid duo of Lau Kar-Wing and Chan Chuen choreographed the action to be quite robust and entertaining. Given the film’s length, the fights are surprisingly plentiful, which definitely keeps the pace rocketing forward. The level of entertainment is very high, with lots of great, unique touches of supernatural wuxia abilities mixed into the choreography. The standard sword work is no slouch, though, as it also delivers lots of fun and exciting thrills. The credit sequence is probably the most memorable sequence, in part because it’s fantastic, but more so because it’s one of those classic Shaw Brothers openings where the actors perform in front of a giant colored backdrop, in this case a black one and later a white one. Previously I was under the impression that Heroes Two was the first film to do this, so either The Protectors was groundbreaking or they shot the intro while getting the film ready for its long-awaited 1975 release. That’s my guess, anyway.
What limits The Protectors, though, is simply its lack of anything that really defines it from the many ’60s and early ’70s Shaw wuxias. Like I said, the story is solid and the characters are well-defined with fun weapons and/or costumes, but that could be said of most of the early Shaw wuxias. It’s a wonderful piece of entertainment, but it lacks the depth or excellence necessary to rise above the sea of good Shaw wuxias. Hell, I just watched it and I’m finding it hard to come up with things to talk about… and I really liked it!
I suppose what I’m trying to say is that The Protectors is a perfect diversionary movie. It will entertain and distract, but it will not make you think. If you dig on early ’70s Shaw wuxia, though, it’s definitely worth a watch, especially if you like a good security bureau movie or enjoy seeing Lo Lieh in a heroic role. I feel bad that the review is kinda short, but so is the movie! 😛
Next up in this chronological journey through the Shaw Brothers Martial Arts catalog is a list! The Protectors was the last film of 1975, so next time around I’ll present a list of the Top 10 films from 1974–1975, before embarking on 1976 the following week with John Law Ma’s Bruceploitation film, Bruce Lee and I! See ya then!