Starring Lau Wing, Wong Yu, Tin Ching, Shut Chung-Tin, Shum Lo, Chiang Nan, Cheng Miu, Kong Yeung, Lam Fung, Teresa Ha Ping, Chan Shen, Cheng Kwun-Min, Shih Ping-Ping, Mi Lan, Lun Ga-Chun, Cheung Chi-Hung, Wang Han-Chen, Pang Pang, Lee Pang-Fei, Wong Ching-Ho, Chu Siu-Boh, Ching Si
Directed by Wong Fung
Expectations: I don’t know what to expect, honestly.
I added Emperor Chien Lung to my chronological lineup of Shaw Brothers films for a few reasons. For one, I knew it had some limited martial arts content, and that it starred Lau Wing and Wong Yu. Secondly, it was the top grossing Shaw Brothers film of 1976 and it spawned multiple sequels (which might have more martial content than this one). It was also directed by Wong Fung, who intrigued me with his film Rivals of Kung Fu and his legacy with the original Wong Fei-Hung series starring Kwan Tak-Hing. Thankfully, my curiosity was well-placed, and Emperor Chien Lung is a fantastically fun and well-crafted film.
Emperor Chien Lung is absolutely sick and tired of the sheltered life of an emperor. He is fed the same foods and dressed in the same clothes every day, and literally every aspect of his life is governed by tradition and routine. One day, he hears a tale of how Emperor Tang Ming-Huang disguised himself as a commoner and mingled amongst his people. Chien Lung decides to do this as well, and his adventures outside the palace are what makes up the bulk of the film. It bears an anthology feel, with each tale wrapped up tight before proceeded ahead with the next one. Chien Lung learns things along the way, and he even picks up a sidekick, Chau Yi Qing (Wong Yu), but nearly everything else is self-contained within each story.
To describe it this way makes it sound like it would get boring seeing a similar course of events repeat themselves, but within the film it flows very well. The stories are all different enough to be entertaining on their own, and after a couple of them a familiarity develops that only increases the fun of the later stories. Knowing the formula, it’s engaging to see just how exactly Emperor Chien Lung and Chau stick it to each new set of villains, and to be honest I could watch tons of these little stories. It makes total sense that the film spawned sequels, because when the film ended I immediately wanted to see another adventure.
Anyway, I loved Emperor Chien Lung and I hope the sequels, all from director Li Han-Hsiang, are equally entertaining!
Next up in this chronological journey through the Shaw Brothers Martial Arts catalog is Chang Cheh’s return to Shaolin (with co-director Wu Ma), The Shaolin Avengers! See ya then!