Legend of the Bat [蝙蝠傳奇] (1978)
Starring Ti Lung, Ling Yun, Derek Yee, Yueh Hua, Ching Li, Wong Chung, Candice Yu On-On, Yuen Wah, Norman Chu Siu-Keung, Ku Kuan-Chung, Lau Wing, Wang Lai, Lau Wai-Ling, Ching Miao, Ai Fei, Yang Chi-Ching, Yuen Bun, Chan Sze-Kai, Chong Lee, Shum Lo, Alan Chui Chung-San, Huang Pei-Chih, Chan Shen, Keung Hon, Tang Tak-Cheung
Directed by Chor Yuen
Expectations: High. Clans of Intrigue was awesome.
Legend of the Bat was Chor Yuen’s second adaptation from Gu Long’s Chu Liu-Xiang series, this time tackling the fourth novel (and first of the five-novel New Legend of Chu Liu-Xiang cycle): Legend of the Bat [蝙蝠傳奇] (1971). Clans of Intrigue is one of my favorite Chor Yuen films — a perfect mix of wuxia and mystery — so I eagerly awaited Chu’s new adventure of investigation in the martial world. But Legend of the Bat is a different film entirely from its predecessor, so I couldn’t help but feel let down. Regardless, Legend of the Bat has some good thrills, and I hope they play better when I know what I’m in for. I like to be challenged as a viewer, but that means sometimes you just have to take the bitter hit of not really getting it during the first go-round.
We open on Bat Island in autumn, during a Jiawu Year in the sexagenary calendar, where an auction has begun. Mr. Bat, the head of Bat Island, conducts the yearly auctions completely in the dark so no one can know each other’s true identities. The first order of business is a request for the death of our intrepid hero Chu Liu-Xiang! Say it ain’t so! From there we reconnect with Chu (Ti Lung) and his martial brother Yi Tien-Hung (Ling Yun), who appear to be just leaving the final scenes of Clans of Intrigue. They stop at the Simin Villa, only to find it deserted, with a banquet laid out and undisturbed. Further inside, they discover the bodies of many formidable members of the martial world; the only survivor is afflicted with amnesia and a burning compulsion to visit Bat Island.
Despite the mysterious set-up, Legend of the Bat is unfortunately not much of a mystery. Chu investigates elements that lead him to the next clue, but he’s far less of an active participant than he was in Clans of Intrigue. He’s the star, but the movie isn’t really focused on him. Someone calls for Chu’s death in the opening scene, but it amounts to nothing more than a fight towards the end of the film. The fight and the revealed character are awesome, but they could also be lifted completely from the film without affecting the plot.
The central storyline ends up focusing on Chu’s involvement with Lee Yuk-Hom (Yueh Hua) and Lau Mo-Meng (Ching Li), a married couple who need poppy seed to cure Mo-Meng’s sickness. To even call this storyline “central” is a misnomer, though, as it’s also ultimately meaningless. I suppose the identity of Mr. Bat is the mystery everyone wants to solve, but it’s not something the audience is along the way for. It’s a mystery that happens on the fringe of the film’s events. Maybe I missed some key points, but it sure seemed unfocused to me. Whatever the case, my expectations of a wuxia mystery certainly clouded the experience, so Legend of the Bat felt inferior in every way to its predecessor.
I don’t want to sound too down on the movie, though, because it is fun. The action choreography by Chor Yuen’s usual team of Tang Chia and Huang Pei-Chih is solid like you’d expect. The third act contains the bulk of the memorable action, including a wonderful finale where our collected heroes battle the mysterious Mr. Bat in the dark. It’s an ambitious battle, and easily the highlight of the film. I wish the rest of the movie lived up to it! Speaking of ambition, I’m guessing Legend of the Bat cost more than your average Shaw film, as it features a bunch of miniatures, explosions, and large, impressive sets that probably didn’t see much use outside of this movie.
I wish I liked Legend of the Bat more, but at least I still have three more Chor Yuen films to look forward to in 1978. 😀
Next up in this chronological journey through the Shaw Brothers Martial Arts catalog is Wong Wa-Kei’s My Kung Fu Master, a co-production between Eternal and Shaw & Sons (a company started by second-oldest brother Runde Shaw). Will it have the Shaw flavor? See ya then (hopefully soon)!