King Boxer (1972)

KingBoxer_1King Boxer [天下第一拳] (1972)
AKA Five Fingers of Death

Starring Lo Lieh, Wang Ping, Wong Gam-Fung, Tien Feng, Tung Lam, Fang Mian, Goo Man-Chung, James Nam Gung-Fan, Yau Lung, Chen Feng-Chen, Chan Shen, Gam Kei-Chu, Chiu Hung, Someno Yukio, Yeung Chak-Lam, Hung Sing-Chung, Bolo Yeung, Tsang Choh-Lam, Wong Ching-Ho

Directed by Cheng Chang Ho

Expectations: High.

fourstar


Opening with the sound of an alarm, King Boxer lets you know straight away that it is a film to take notice of. As an advancement of the budding hand-to-hand genre, King Boxer is exactly the film the genre needed at this point in time. It builds on the foundation set by previous films — specifically The Chinese Boxer and Fist of Fury — and takes the genre closer to what it would later become. There’s no secret why this is the film that broke through to America and created a kung fu sensation; it’s an amazingly entertaining and well-made piece of work.

At the heart of the tale is the oft-told story of battling martial arts clans, but in King Boxer it’s the way the story is told that sets it apart. It is both rooted in martial arts traditions and something unique. It takes facets of the traditional kung fu film and orders them in a non-traditional way, resulting in a film that feels familiar, yet is never boring or predictable. It also explores its themes of jealousy, courage and cowardice much more fully than the traditional ’70s martial arts film, making King Boxer fulfilling on multiple levels.

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The Swift Knight (1971)

SwiftKnight+1971-23-bThe Swift Knight [來如風] (1971)

Starring Lo Lieh, Margaret Hsing Hui, Chin Han, Fang Mian, Wang Hsieh, Chai No, Tung Lam, Wong Chung-Shun, Fan Mei-Sheng, Yip Bo-Kam, Shum Lo, Chan Shen, Lee Pang-Fei, Hsu Yu, Nau Nau

Directed by Cheng Chang Ho

Expectations: Moderately high.

threehalfstar


While The Swift Knight starts out as a simple wuxia film that is seemingly inspired by the Robin Hood tale (as many are, although I’m sure there’s a Chinese equivalent that they’re actually based on), it quickly reveals itself to be a very different type of film than your standard Shaw Brothers fare. This is both a blessing and a curse, as it’s admirable for breaking parts of the mold and trying something different, but it also feels like something less than it could be because of this. In any case, The Swift Knight is overwhelmingly impressive, and a brisk watch for wuxia fans.

Lo Lieh plays the titular character with all the charisma you’ve come to expect from him. This was one of those rare good guy roles for him, and as with anything he’s given, he does a great job. But strangely enough in a film titled after his character, there’s actually a fair amount of focus on the characters that aren’t swift, or knights, or the Swift Knight. This is one of the major failing points of the film for me, because there’s not nearly enough Lo Lieh to satiate my desires. But in a film as fun as this, this is something of a moot point.

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Six Assassins (1971)

SixAssassins+1971-1-bSix Assassins [六刺客] (1971)

Starring Ling Yun, Ha Faan, James Nam Gung-Fan, Go Ming, Lily Li Li-Li, Siu Wa, Tong Tin-Hei, Chai No, Cheung Ging-Boh, Yau Lung, Yun Il-Bong, Chan Shen, Hung Sing-Chung, Suen Lam, Chen Feng-Chen, Fang Mian

Directed by Cheng Chang Ho

Expectations: Moderate. Cheng Chang Ho’s last movie was pretty fun.

threestar


Before I start watching one of these Shaw films that I know nothing about, I will usually watch a few seconds here and there throughout the movie to give myself an idea of what I’m about to sit through. It might seem like an odd practice, but I’ve found that doing this allows me to get a handle on my expectations, allowing me to take in the film without the high hopes that the fun titles might inspire. For Six Assassins it worked beautifully, because when I did this I saw deep, saturated colors and a lot of grand sets and costumes. This instantly reminded me of the Shaw Brothers films from the 1960s, and my expectations for the film plummeted. So when I watched the movie and I found out that it was actually really fun and not like those movies at all, I was even more enthusiastic about watching it than I would’ve been normally.

Six Assassins takes a little while to get going, as it throws a lot of dense storytelling at you immediately after the opening credits. But it boils down to this: the emperor’s brother is a royal asshole. He kills the lord of a peaceful part of the country, hoping to annex the lands and thus control the people who live there. But those people don’t take too kindly to that, so they enlist the help of the famed swordsman Mu Jun-Jie (Ling Yun). Mu drafts a small group of assassins to help him in his goal, and thus the tale of Six Assassins takes its shape.

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Valley of the Fangs (1970)

Valley of the Fangs [餓狼谷] (1970)

Starring Li Ching, Lo Lieh, Chan Leung, Wang Kuang-Yu, Cheng Lui, Fan Mei-Sheng, Ngai Ping-Ngo, Wang Hsieh, Chen Yan-Yan, Tung Li, Lee Pang-Fei, Shi Xiu, Kim Chil-Seong

Directed by Cheng Chang Ho

Expectations: Moderate. Hopefully I like it better than Heads for Sale.


Another week, another moderately enjoyable Shaw Brothers wuxia film! The light at the end of the tunnel is brighter than it ever has been before, but these old school wuxia films are still really sapping my energies. Valley of the Fangs isn’t so much a bad film as it is one that’s not all that unique. As all of these Shaw Brothers films are essentially shot in the same locations and on the same sets, they have the tendency to run together. And when the direction isn’t all that interesting, they really run together, so in a few days I will have a hard time distinguishing my memories of Valley of the Fangs from the sea of films that came before it.

But I don’t want to be too harsh. Valley of the Fangs is better than I’m giving it credit for, and while it’s not pure fun like The Winged Tiger, it does have enough to keep you entertained. There’s a world of difference between keeping you entertained and actually exciting, though, so I can’t help but be a little disappointed with this spectacularly titled film. And — spoiler alert — there’s not really any fangs to be found in the valley.

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Heads for Sale (1970)

Heads for Sale [女俠賣人頭] (1970)

Starring Lisa Chiao Chiao, Chan Leung, Wang Hsieh, Helen Ma Hoi-Lun, Chen Yan-Yan, Fan Mei-Sheng, Cheng Miu, Cheng Lui, Chan Sing, Tung Li, Chai No, Hung Lau, Poon Oi-Lun, Yip Bo-Kam

Directed by Cheng Chang Ho

Expectations: Low, despite a great title.


Heads for Sale opens with a song. This is not generally a good sign, and it immediately made me think this would be a throwback film to the early days of the genre when it was all pageantry and colorful music numbers. Thankfully, this is not the case, but the film suffers horribly from disorganized storytelling and a cast of characters so large and broad that it becomes tedious to keep up with everyone. Just when you think they’ve thrown everything they can at you, Heads for Sale introduces four new villains about 12 minutes before the film ends. And these aren’t villains that the film has been alluding to throughout like ominous string-pullers lurking in the dark, they’re just four brothers looking for vengeance on two of their brothers killed earlier in the film. It’s never clear who their brothers are either, but I’m going to assume they were the two guys beheaded about halfway through the movie. So yeah, the storytelling isn’t as strong as it could be.

In any case, the story begins with Hua Bilian (Lisa Chiao Chiao) waiting patiently for word that Luo Hongxun (Chan Leung) will accept her hand in marriage. The thing is: Hua’s father has a bad reputation as a bandit, so no one wishes to marry Hua. When an emissary arrives with the bad news, Hua flips out, suits up and heads over to Luo’s home to settle the score. A woman scorned, and all that. What she’s not aware of is that Luo actually cares deeply for her, it’s his mother that said no and sent the emissary away empty-handed. Cue some misunderstandings, followed by a bunch of fights and you’ve pretty much got an idea of what Heads for Sale is all about.

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