The Proud Youth (1978)

The Proud Youth [笑傲江湖] (1978)

Starring Wong Yu, Shih Szu, Michael Chan Wai-Man, Stanley Fung Sui-Fan, Lau Wai-Ling, Chong Lee, Ling Yun, Ding Ying, Yue Wing, Ku Feng, Wong Chung, Tin Ching, Yau Chui-Ling, Ching Miao, Chan Shen, Yang Chi-Ching, Teresa Ha Ping, Wong Ching-Ho, Ng Hong-Sang, Chan Wai-Ying, Yuen Wah

Directed by Sun Chung

Expectations: High. I have a feeling about this one.


When I was a teenager, I didn’t know anything about the wuxia genre, and fantasy wasn’t what I wanted from Hong Kong movies. Like many Western viewers, I generally saw wirework as a negative, thinking of it more as a crutch or an excuse not to do those incredible Hong Kong stunts I loved Jackie Chan for. A few wuxia films broke through my naive mental wall, though, and the Swordsman films — specifically Swordsman II — still hold a treasured place in my heart. So when I learned that The Proud Youth shared DNA with the Swordsman films, I was fascinated and excited by the prospect of revisiting this tale told through the Shaw Brothers lens.

The Proud Youth is based on the Jin Yong novel The Smiling, Proud Wanderer (笑傲江湖), and shares the book’s Chinese title (which literally translates to Laughing Proudly in the Martial World). Despite sharing titles, the film changed most of the character names for some reason. So if you’re familiar with the Swordsman movies (or the book), Brigitte Lin’s iconic Invincible Asia character is represented here as the castrated and effeminate Sima Wuji (Tin Ching), and Wong Yu plays the same character as Samuel Hui/Jet Li (or Chow Yun-Fat if you’re watching the 1984 TVB version 😀 ). While I haven’t read the book — no official English translation exists — The Proud Youth seemingly attempts to boil the whole thing down into one 90-minute movie, so the film covers some major events from both Swordsman and Swordsman II (I believe Swordsman III is largely unrelated to the book).

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The Game of Death (1978)

The Game of Death [死亡遊戲] (1978)

Starring Tong Lung, Bruce Lee, Gig Young, Dean Jagger, Colleen Camp, Hugh O’Brian, Mel Novak, Roy Chiao, Robert Wall, Dan Inosanto, Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Billy McGill, Sammo Hung, Yuen Biao, Casanova Wong, Ji Han-Jae, James Tin Chuen

Directed by Robert Clouse

Expectations: Not much.


The Game of Death is a tricky film to review, but I’m sure it won’t be nearly as painful as actually watching the movie. The actual Bruce Lee footage is as great as it ever was, but everything that leads up to it is pretty sub-standard. The Robert Clouse-directed stuff is most of the movie, too — only 10 minutes or so are from Bruce Lee’s shoot — and there’s just no way around the fact that it’s boring. Even with Sammo Hung choreographing the fights, and Yuen Biao doing a lot of acrobatic double work for “Bruce,” the fights are largely uninspired and average compared to the best the Hong Kong industry was producing in 1978. For instance, Sammo made the absolutely incredible Wing Chun movie Warriors Two later the same year, and the quality gap between these two films is about as wide as the Grand Canyon.

Perhaps the difference lies in Robert Clouse’s direction; there is certainly no palpable passion in any of his material. The shift in tone and quality is jarring when Bruce finally shows up in the final 10 minutes with every bit of charisma he ever had. Bruce Lee was always passionate about his martial philosophy, and he focused on presenting it through his films — particularly The Way of the Dragon and the unfinished Game of Death. Care could have been taken to preserve this spirit, and present a version of Game of Death that was as much a celebration of Bruce Lee as it was an attempt to salvage the unfinished footage. Instead, it was decided to ditch Bruce’s vision for a cliched and rather dumb plot that just sort of stumbles its way towards the electric Lee footage.

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The Vengeful Beauty (1978)

The Vengeful Beauty [血芙蓉] (1978)

Starring Chen Ping, Yueh Hua, Norman Chu Siu-Keung, Lo Lieh, Lam Fai-Wong, Johnny Wang Lung-Wei, Siu Yam-Yam, Wai Wang, Lee Sau-Kei, Lee Chung-Ling, Wong Ching-Ho, Keung Hon, Chiang Nan, Hung Ling-Ling

Directed by Ho Meng-Hua

Expectations: Hoping it’s better than Flying Guillotine 2.


The Vengeful Beauty opens with narration about how the Qing Dynasty emperor is ferreting out dissension among his subjects, and even the booksellers and proofreaders aren’t safe! I suppose that puts me right into his sights, but I will not be deterred from my mission, no matter what it costs! And just like me, Rong Qiu Yan (Chen Ping), better known in the martial world as The Bloody Hibiscus, will also stop at nothing to help people fight the ruthless emperor. During the day she is a sweet, doting wife to the imperial officer Han Tian De (Lee Chung-Ling), but when Tian De catches wind of the emperor’s secret flying guillotine assassins, the emperor orders his whole family murdered to keep the secret safe. Of course, Qiu Yan escapes the guillotine squad, and pivots her brave wuxia heroics from part-time avenger to full-time vengeful beauty.

I’m not sure what the production specifics were, but The Vengeful Beauty is Ho Meng-Hua’s follow-up to his trendsetting 1975 film, The Flying Guillotine. For some reason, Shaw decided to give the “official” sequel to Cheng Kang (and later Hua Shan), resulting in an OK movie that shows its production woes and ought to be much better than it is. Ho’s The Vengeful Beauty is a much more cohesive film, and while it definitely pales in comparison to the original, it’s a far better sequel than the “official” one. For that matter, so is Ho’s The Dragon Missile.

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Clan of Amazons (1978)

Clan of Amazons [秀花大盜 or 陸小鳳傳奇之一繡花大盜] (1978)

Starring Lau Wing, Ling Yun, Norman Chu Siu-Keung, Ching Li, Yueh Hua, Manor Chan Man-Na, Shih Szu, Ku Kuan-Chung, Cheung Ying, Chan Shen, Ngaai Fei, Lam Fai-Wong, Yang Chi-Ching, Teresa Ha Ping, Dik Boh-Laai, Lau Wai-Ling, Chong Lee, Kara Hui, Ou-Yang Sha-Fei, Yuen Wah

Directed by Chor Yuen

Expectations: I hope it lives up to previous Chor Yuen wuxias.


For Chor Yuen’s first film of 1978 (of five!), he once again returned to the fertile imagination of Gu Long. Clan of Amazons is based on the second novel in Gu’s Lu Xiaofeng series, The Embroidery Bandit (繡花大盜, Xiuhua Dadao), and the film shares the book’s title in Chinese. I’m guessing the Clan of Amazons English title refers to the all-female Red Shoe Organization in the film. Anyway, on the title screen there are also some characters identifying the film as a tale of Lu Xiaofeng, so perhaps this signals a hope to make many sequels. The film did well, hitting #16 at the year’s local box office, and TVB produced three TV series based on the novels (in 1976, 1977, and a few months after Clan of Amazons in 1978), but Shaw only produced a single sequel: 1981’s The Duel of the Century.

As for the film at hand, it is almost more of a mystery than anything else. It is, of course, a wuxia mystery, so it’s not without action or traditional martial clan intrigue. Whether you think Clan of Amazons has the goods necessary to offset all the talking, though, depends on your love of dense mystery stories. I love a good mystery, but I also love a rollicking action film so I found Clan of Amazons to be quite entertaining, while simultaneously a little too dry. It’s a hard film to dislike, though, as there are tons of great wuxia thrills packed into its 88-minute runtime.

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The 36th Chamber of Shaolin (1978)

The 36th Chamber of Shaolin [少林卅六房] (1978)
AKA Master Killer, Shaolin Master Killer

Starring Gordon Liu Chia-Hui, Lo Lieh, John Cheung Ng-Long, Wilson Tong, Wa Lun, Hon Kwok-Choi, Lau Kar-Wing, Wai Wang, Chan Sze-Kai, Wong Ching-Ho, Woo Wang-Daat, Lee Hoi-Sang, Keung Hon, Hao Li-Jen, Shum Lo, Lui Tat, Chan Shen, Chiang Nan, Aai Dung-Gwa, Simon Yuen Siu-Tin, Wang Han-Chen, Peter Chan Lung, Henry Yu Yung, Ng Hong-Sang, Norman Chu Siu-Keung, Wong Yu, Huang Pa-Ching

Directed by Lau Kar-Leung

Expectations: I love it. I expect to continue to love it. 🙂


Right from the opening moments, it’s clear that The 36th Chamber of Shaolin is a classic. Gordon Liu commands your attention, performing precise and artful kung fu as the credits appear before him. The iron rings on his arms glisten and add a sonic rhythm to his movements. I tried my best to forget the film’s legacy and watch through this review series’s chronological lens, but this was quite the challenge. It was my first Shaw film, and I’ve seen it countless times. This particular time was my first experience with the film in its original language, though, and this definitely helped to separate it from my personal history. In any case, the film starts out poppin’ on all cylinders, and as it goes it only further cements itself into the martial arts cinematic history.

Liu Yu-de (Gordon Liu) is a passionate student who is displeased with the injustices of the current tyrannical Manchu rule. A group of rebels have been recently executed, including a notable general (played by Lau Kar-Wing), and Liu finds it near impossible to stand by without action. He is told that “one must humble oneself under enemy rule,” but he wonders how long that must go on for. Surely, the fate of his people is not to simply accept their fate and live in fear. He learns that the Shaolin monastery is where the best kung fu is known, but they do not allow outside students or involve themselves in the country’s politics. Fleeing the Manchu, Liu ventures to the Shaolin temple regardless of their policies, hoping that he might appeal to their humanity and learn their fighting arts.

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Flying Guillotine 2 (1978)

Flying Guillotine 2 [清宮大刺殺] (1978)
AKA Flying Guillotine Part II, Palace Carnage

Starring Ti Lung, Shih Szu, Ku Feng, Lo Lieh, Wai Wang, Shih Chung-Tien, Nancy Yen Nan-See, Lau Luk-Wah, Wong Chung, Fan Mei-Sheng, Cheng Kang-Yeh, Ku Kuan-Chung, Chan Sze-Kai, Ching Miao, Ku Wen-Chung, Yang Chi-Ching, Shum Lo, Wang Han-Chen, Keung Hon, Lau Wai-Ling, Shih Ping-Ping, Chan Mei-Hua

Directed by Cheng Kang & Hua Shan

Expectations: High, I really enjoyed the first one.


I hope no one has been holding their breath for my next Shaw Brothers review! It’s been almost an entire year since I’ve written anything (the 1976–1977 Top 10 List was posted 9/28/18 😳 ), and for that I apologize. The good news is that I’ve had some life changes recently, and they should allow me the free time necessary to keep up my old pace of once-a-week Shaw Brothers reviews. Thanks for sticking around! Anyway, onto the review!


On the surface, Flying Guillotine 2 seems like it can do no wrong. It’s a sequel to Ho Meng-Hua’s 1975 smash-hit The Flying Guillotine (also one of Ho’s best films), it stars the electric Ti Lung, and it boasts directorial credits from Cheng Kang, always impressive & dependable, and Hua Shan, a less-skilled director but one that knows his way around crafting a fun film (See: The Super Inframan). Upon watching Flying Guillotine 2, though, all of these elements are very clearly separate and not exactly working together as they should. The story and “our star” Ti Lung are barely there, and the film was clearly saddled with lots of production issues. The resolute, strong style of Cheng Kang is sprinkled throughout, but the bulk of the film is very obviously not up to his usual standards. Apparently, Cheng left part-way through filming, as did the stars of the original film — Chen Kuan-Tai and Liu Wu-Chi. Hua Shan and Ti Lung came in to salvage what they could, but you can only do so much with such a fractured filmmaking journey. (If you’re interested in a more detailed account of this, make sure to check out the film’s review on Cool Ass Cinema!)

The barely there story of Flying Guillotine 2 can be boiled down to this: the Emperor (Ku Feng) is still after Ma Tang (Ti Lung), but he needs to improve the flying guillotine since Ma Tang devised a way to defeat the deadly weapon. Meanwhile, the daughter of an Imperial official, Na Lan (Shih Szu), infiltrates the Imperial Flying Guillotine Academy in an effort to steal the blueprints for Ma Tang. In two sentences, I’ve described the plot of essentially the entire film. The Imperials say, “We gotta catch those rebels!” and the rebels conspire to fight the corrupt officials. That’s really all there is. Ma Tang is mostly off-screen in the background of the events, too, so the film neither has a story or a main hero. This would be fine if there were someone to take his place, and Na Lan sort of does, but the film actually focuses on the Emperor and his minions more than anything else.

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The Silver Emulsion Podcast: Ep. 72 – Message from Space

Take to the stars this week with Stephen and I, as we voyage into Kinji Fukasaku’s 1978 fantasy space opera Message from Space! Listen and enjoy. 🙂

Also: the show is now on iTunes! So if you feel like subscribing there, or rating/reviewing the show, feel free to share your thoughts!

Music Notes

Intro:

  • James Brown – All About My Girl
    • James Brown Plays New Breed (The Boo-Ga-Loo) (iTunes, Amazon)

Outro:

  • Frank Zappa – Eat That Question

If you’ve got feedback, throw it into the comments below or email it to me via the contact page! We’ll include it in a future show!

The podcast is embedded directly below this, or you can go directly to Podbean (or use their app) to listen. If you want to subscribe, paste http://silveremulsion.podbean.com/feed/ into whatever reader you’re using.

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