The Brave Archer Part II [射鵰英雄傳續集] (1978)
AKA Kung Fu Warlords II
Starring Alexander Fu Sheng, Nau Nau, Ku Feng, Phillip Kwok Chun-Fung, Johnny Wang Lung-Wei, Danny Lee, Li Yi-Min, Shirley Yu Sha-Li, Ku Kuan-Chung, Lin Chen-Chi, Tsai Hung, Lo Meng, Wong Ching-Ho, Kara Hui, Sun Chien, Yu Hoi-Lun, Yue Wing, Chan Shen, Keung Hon, Suen Shu-Pau, Lu Feng, Chiang Sheng, Dick Wei, Norman Chu Siu-Keung, Bruce Tong Yim-Chaan
Directed by Chang Cheh
Expectations: High. I like the first one a lot.
The Brave Archer 2 begins right where the first film ended, with Kuo Tsing (Alexander Fu Sheng) and his bride-to-be, Huang Yung (Nau Nau), running to embrace in slow-motion. This moment culminated the first film’s arc, so it’s nice to have a reminder. Chang goes a step further to recap some of what led to this, before accelerating into a bridge section that glosses over cost-prohibitive shipwrecks and starts the film on a hillside easily doubled on a Shaw sound stage. Our heroes, Kuo Tsing, Naughty Chao (Phillip Kwok) and Beggar Hung (Ku Feng), survived a shipwreck following their exodus from Peach Island. Huang secretly followed her betrothed in a boat of her own, which also shipwrecked. But while the men landed on the beach, the dastardly Ouyang Feng (Wang Lung-Wei) and his nephew (Danny Lee) rescued Huang from the middle of the ocean. Ouyang Feng wants the Jiao Yin manual Kuo learned from Naughty Chao (the 2nd part of which Kuo unknowingly carried on a piece of tattooed villain skin), so he forces him to write it down in exchange for Huang’s life.
The first film focused on Kuo Tsing’s budding relationship with Huang, and his many kung fu masters along the way, but The Brave Archer 2 sidelines them in favor of developing the major villains. Ouyang Feng is present throughout, his deadly frog kung fu on full display. Yang Kang is outwardly portrayed as a villain of his own choosing, refusing to acknowledge his Song blood in order to keep the status and wealth of the Jins. Yuan Ngan Hung Lit, the Sixth Prince of Jin and Yang Kang’s adopted father, searches for the Book of Wumu, a collection of military strategies and tactics, in order to aid his fight against the Song Empire. The sequel also expands the martial world considerably, introducing us to the rest of the Tsuen Jen Taoists (Taoist Yao names Kuo Tsing and Yang Kang in the first film), the Beggars’ Clan, and the Iron Palm Clan.
As a fantasy story it’s everything you could want, but that’s the key. The Brave Archer 2 isn’t so much an action movie, as it is a martial arts fantasy with some action. The brief moments of action serve as the gravy to the larger story; they are never the main course. In part, I think this is why the Brave Archer films carry such a varied reputation among fans. If you’re into the story, the action heightens the drama and the emotions, but if you’re lost, it’s like being thrown a deflated water wing when you’re drowning in the ocean. The choreography — handled by Robert Tai Chi-Hsien, Leung Ting and Lu Feng (his first choreography credit) — is more enjoyable and tighter than what’s in the first film, but it’s not enough to justify wading through the impenetrable story for pure action fans. Adding to the confusion, a couple of key roles were recast such as Huang Yung, Taoist Yao, the minor villain Liang Ze Weng, and others I’m sure I missed.
I can’t fault anyone who doesn’t enjoy the Brave Archer films. There’s a ton going on at every moment, and Chang Cheh seems relatively unconcerned with amplifying the story’s cinematic aspects in bringing it to the screen. But Jin Yong’s The Legend of the Condor Heroes is one of the most well-loved and bestselling wuxia novels of all time, and this fascinates me. I paused the film, re-watched sections of the first film for clarity (after already re-watching it the week prior), looked through my books, and scoured the Internet for even more details. I worked to make sure I understood everything that happened, and I loved every minute. Films shouldn’t require this much extracircular activity to make sense, but for The Brave Archer, I think it’s necessary as a Western viewer. I believe Chang Cheh made these films under an assumption of the audience’s foreknowledge of the story, and since I’m attempting to see these films as contextually as I can, it makes sense to do the work necessary. It certainly doesn’t hurt that I love wuxia and fantasy films, too.
I also love long novels, and Chang Cheh’s Brave Archer trilogy is the kind of long-form adaptation I often dream of with my favorite novels. These movies were never meant to exist singularly; they are a single work. So when I see arguments about how the scheduled duel between Kuo Tsing and Yang Kang still hasn’t taken place, it just baffles me. Did anyone complain that Frodo didn’t throw the ring into Mount Doom at the end of Fellowship of the Ring? No, because there was an inherent understanding that the films were long-form adaptations, and the same thing should apply to Chang’s trilogy. Wuxia stories are dense, layered epics, and the added length allows these aspects to flourish.
Side note: I know there are two other Brave Archer films produced by Shaw Brothers, but both of them (The Brave Archer and His Mate & Little Dragon Maiden) are based on the sequel novel, Return of the Condor Heroes. The sequel is an entirely different story focused on Yang Guo, the son of Yang Kang.
Chang Cheh states in his memoir that his Jin Yong films didn’t do justice to the novels, and certainly the films don’t flow as the best films should. But Chang’s Brave Archer films do contain multitudes to those on the correct wavelength, and I’m happily among their number. Perhaps Tsui Hark’s upcoming adaptation of the novel will finally put all the pieces together and deliver a true cinematic epic worthy of Jin Yong’s storied novel.
Next up in this chronological journey through the Shaw Brothers Martial Arts catalog is Ho Meng-Hua’s Shaolin Hand Lock! Somehow I doubt Ho Meng-Hua’s Shaolin movie will live up to the greats from Chang Cheh or Lau Kar-Leung, but I guess we’ll see. See ya then (hopefully soon)!