The Enchanted Chamber (1968)

EnchantedChamber+1968-1-bThe Enchanted Chamber [狐俠] (1968)

Starring Margaret Hsing Hui, Chin Feng, Lily Li Li-Li, Lee Kwan, Goo Man-Chung, Pang Pang, Tung Li, Chiu Sam-Yin, Fang Mian

Directed by Hsih Chun

Expectations: High, for some reason. Probably because I couldn’t see this one for a long time and now its mystique is all built up.

threehalfstar


Wuxia films always contain some supernatural elements, but The Enchanted Chamber is a true supernatural wuxia. Powers and the spirit world inform nearly every scene in the film, creating a fantastically entertaining film that is a hybrid of wuxia, spooky horror and a tale of star-crossed lovers. Thinking about the other Shaw films from 1968, The Enchanted Chamber also feels quite unique in this regard, flawlessly blending genres together where other films of this era have a rough time presenting one genre as well.

Based on a tale from the classic Chinese collection Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio, The Enchanted Chamber opens by introducing us to Chiang Wen-Tsui (Margaret Hsing Hui), a trickster fox fairy. We watch as she thwarts an adulterous couple mid-coitus, and a few minutes later she sings a wonderful song while providing pears for some hungry children in town. It would appear that she is to be our main character, but about 20 minutes in, the film takes a hard turn away from her story. While she does return to play a very important role in the film, her introduction also serves double duty by introducing us to the type of world we’re dealing with. This is a world where mischievous fairies are very much a real thing, and if someone says their house is haunted, you better not stick around.

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The Great Silence (1968)

greatsilence_6The Great Silence [Il grande silenzio] (1968)
AKA The Big Silence

Starring Jean-Louis Trintignant, Klaus Kinski, Frank Wolff, Luigi Pistilli, Vonetta McGee, Mario Brega, Carlo D’Angelo, Marisa Merlini

Directed by Sergio Corbucci

Expectations: Low.

threehalfstar


The Great Silence must be pretty high on the list of the bleakest films in existence. So if you’re not going to be OK with a movie that doesn’t contain a single shred of hope, optimism or happiness, then The Great Silence is one to avoid. But for those willing to take the plunge into this snow-covered land of darkness ruled by ruthless bounty killers and their greed, then you are in for one of the greatest Italian westerns of all time.

The Great Silence opens by introducing us to Silence (Jean-Louis Trintignant), a mute gunman who lives by a strict code of only firing on a man in self-defense. He is a good man living in a cutthroat world, but his quickness on the draw and his code allow him to stay within the bounds of the law. On the other side of the proverbial coin is Loco (Klaus Kinski), a bounty killer who will kill anyone, anywhere without a second thought… as long as there’s a reward to be collected. He is an evil man, but like Silence he is also technically operating within the confines of the law. The film inevitably puts these two men against one another, but to describe the film in such simple terms makes it sound a lot more average and unremarkable than it actually is.

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Shoot, Gringo… Shoot! (1968)

shootgringoshoot_1Shoot, Gringo… Shoot! [Spara, Gringo, spara] (1968)
AKA The Longest Hunt, Rainbow, Tire Django, tire (France)

Starring Brian Kelly, Keenan Wynn, Erika Blanc, Folco Lulli, Fabrizio Moroni, Linda Sini, Rik Battaglia, Giovanni Pallavicino, Luigi Bonos, Furio Meniconi, Robert Beaumont, Lina Franchi

Directed by Bruno Corbucci

Expectations: Low. You never know what you’re getting with these.

On the general scale:
twostar

On the B-movie scale:
threestar


Shoot, Gringo… Shoot! was directed by Bruno Corbucci, younger brother of famed spaghetti western director Sergio Corbucci who was responsible for such classics as Django, The Great Silence and Navajo Joe. But within the western genre, the younger Corbucci only made one spaghetti western comedy, The Three Musketeers of the West, and one straight western. Unfortunately, Shoot, Gringo… Shoot! is definitely not up to the same class of film as his brother’s legacy. That’s OK, though, as it’s unfair to expect brothers to make films of a similar caliber, or even of a similar style. For what it is — a second-tier spaghetti western — Shoot, Gringo… Shoot! is one of the better ones I’ve seen and it remains quite entertaining throughout.

Shoot, Gringo… Shoot! is about Stark, a lone badass who begins the film rotting away in a basement jail cell. He quickly escapes and seeks revenge on some guy for some reason, which leads him to killing a few guards and then getting himself recaptured. These men take him to their leader, who initially wants to hang him for his transgressions, but then decides to strike up a deal instead. If Stark can bring back the leader’s son, who’s absconded with a band of outlaws, then they will let him go free. Stark agrees with nothing to lose, and the game is afoot.

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The Fastest Sword (1968)

The Fastest Sword [天下第一劍] (1968)

Starring Liu Ping, Chu Jing, Go Ming, Han Chiang, Liu Wai, Chiu Keung, Lee Goon-Cheung, Law Hon, Man Gau, Chuen Yuen, Gam Lee-Sang, Man Man, Tai Leung, Ling Siu, Cheung Ching-Fung

Directed by Pan Lei

Expectations: Low.


Going into The Fastest Sword I had little to no expectations. It featured no one that I recognized from a quick look at the cast list and I had never heard of director Pan Lei either. The Fastest Sword took me by surprise though, as it’s actually a very good martial drama that revolves around the classic story trope of the cursed warrior who wants nothing more than to leave his past life behind him. It surprisingly brings together nearly all the necessary elements for a fun film: great directing, quality acting & martial performance, and a well-written screenplay.

The film opens with a badass swordsman from the South (Liu Ping) taking on three combatants who have come to avenge their brother’s murder. He quickly takes them out and an old man steps up and challenges the swordsman to a duel. If the old man wins, the famous Southern Sword must stay with him and train for three years. The cocky young man agrees and within the space of a few seconds he’s bested by the bearded elderly master. The film then moves into what is the first real extended master/pupil sequence I’ve seen while doing this review series, and I welcome the scene with open arms. It isn’t the training sequences martial arts fans are accustomed though (so don’t envision Challenge of the Masters), but it features some of the best moments of the film, specifically when the master tasks his student with carving a statue out of a giant rock. The master gives his student his task and then says, “I’ll be back in six months.” It’s a fantastic scene and one that eventually leads our hero to seek a new life as a mason in a small town.

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The Jade Raksha (1968)

The Jade Raksha [玉罗刹] (1968)

Starring Cheng Pei Pei, Tang Ching, Yeung Chi Hing, Fan Mei-Sheng, Ku Feng, Wong Ching-Wan, Lui Hung, Man Sau, Nam Wai-Lit, Siu Lam-Wun, Kong Lung

Directed by Ho Meng-Hua

Expectations: High, Ho Meng-Hua usually delivers.


The Jade Raksha is just another Cheng Pei-Pei revenge movie on the surface, but there is something a little more interesting than that underneath its clichéd exterior. While the fights are nothing particularly special and the choreography is even less notable, the twists and the turns of the script and the character’s journey really do work their way into your heart and by the end you’re reveling in wonderful secrets finally exposed and smiling right along with the characters. This one’s definitely only for the fans, but those that seek it out will find a competent, fun movie, even if it is somewhat average and forgettable overall.

Cheng Pei-Pei plays the Jade Raksha, a swordswoman out for revenge posing as a legendary ghost to get to her victims. She goes around the countryside murdering anyone with the surname Yan, because when she was a small child, a man bearing that name killed her entire family and left her for dead. Early in the film she meets up with the savvy Xu Ying Hao (Tang Ching), who quickly identifies her and strikes up a friendship. Xu has a quest of his own, to find the man who murdered his father many years prior. The two vengeance seekers quickly find that their task won’t be as straightforward as they thought, when friendships and allegiances get in the way.

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Death Valley (1968)

Death Valley [斷魂谷] (1968)

Starring Yueh Hua, Angela Yu Chien, Chen Hung Lieh, Lo Wei, Wong Wai, Chiu Hung, Lee Kwan, Han Ying Chieh, Ng Wai, Cheung Hei, Wong Ching Ho, Lee Sau Kei

Directed by Lo Wei

Expectations: Moderate, I enjoyed the previous Lo Wei film I watched The Black Butterfly.


This one kind of snuck up on me. My thoughts about it kept evolving as I watched, starting at “This is OK,” then moving on to “This is pretty good,” until finally settling on “Hey, this is coming around nicely. Well done, Lo Wei!” And it’s mostly due to the well-developed, enjoyable characters that populate the film. I don’t say that very often with these Shaw Brothers movies and in the grand scheme of things the two main swordsmen characters aren’t very deep, but they are both intriguing and fun to follow around as they move through the adventure. That’s about all you can ask from a genre film character and these two guys (and a whole host of fun supporting characters) really brighten up what is otherwise a rather average movie.

At the plot level, Death Valley is another in a long string of mistaken identity films, with one righteous hero being mistook for one stone-faced bandit and vice versa. The catch here is that prior to the mistaken identity hijinks, the two characters meet and strike up a brotherly friendship. Suddenly as the two men are thrown into situations where they are thought to be the other, they learn about who the other man is and weigh this information against what they experienced firsthand. It makes the proceedings much more interesting than they have a right to be and how well it all works is a credit to the strength of Lo Wei’s storytelling abilities, both behind the camera and with the pen.

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The Sword of Swords (1968)

The Sword of Swords [神刀] (1968)

Starring Jimmy Wang Yu, Li Ching, Tien Feng, Wong Chung-Shun, Cheng Miu, Shu Pei-Pei, Yeung Chi Hing, Lam Jing, Lee Wan Chung, Ou-Yang Sha-Fei, Lee Ho, Tang Chia, Chan Wan-Wa, Poon Oi-Lun, Shum Lo

Directed by Cheng Kang

Expectations: High. I’ve heard this is a good one.


The Sword of Swords is somewhat overlong and overly melodramatic, but it more than makes up for this with some of the best choreographed fights to come out of the Shaw Brothers studios up to this point. With the action directed by famous duo Tang Chia and Lau Kar-Leung, you know to expect something special and nearly every fight in the film delivers on that promise. The film is more than just fights though, and without the grounding that the drama provides, the fights wouldn’t be nearly as satisfying.

The sword of swords is a sword forged of the best metal and capable of turning the tide in any battle. It is such an incredible weapon that even a mere slice through the air creates a gale of wind to knock your opponent off-balance. The sword doesn’t get used much in the film, but when it does, director Cheng Kang does a great job of selling just how powerful it is with dutch angles and whooshing sound effects. Each swipe of the sword is meaningful and tense, and the fact that the characters choose not to use it when they could easily decimate their opponents is beside the point. Instead, the sword is the punctuation on the film, the object which everyone revolves around and something of its power would be lost if everyone was swinging it around willy-nilly.

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