Return of the Dead (1979)

Return of the Dead [銷魂玉] (1979)

Starring Ku Feng, Wang Lai, Lau Luk-Wah, Yeung Chi-Hing, Yueh Hua, Chan Wai-Ying, Si Wai, Yuen Sam, Cheng Miu, Ko Hsiang-Ting, Cheung Ching-Fung, Choh Seung-Wan, Tai Kwan-Tak, Chan Shen, Chun Wong, Wong Ching-Ho, Lau Wai-Ling, Shum Lo, Fung Ming, Lui Tat, Wang Han-Chen

Directed by Li Han-Hsiang

Expectations: Moderate. Hopefully it’s as good as The Ghost Story or better.


Li Han-Hsiang followed The Ghost Story with another horror anthology nine months later: Return of the Dead. It is a much more conventional anthology, with a framing story bringing together three stories which would otherwise have no connection. Return of the Dead is also not a sexploitation film (although it does brush up against the genre in a couple of scenes), so overall I imagine it is a much easier to digest film for traditional horror audiences. The only problem is that Return of the Dead just isn’t as good as it ought to be. The stories are all entertaining and engaging, but they lack a bit of oomph to really send them into a territory that inspires love. I liked the film, don’t get me wrong, it’s just that there’s not a lot to hang any sort of recommendation on.

The framing story is relatively light, showing the protagonists of the individual stories explaining how they came to reside in the insane asylum they all call home. The first story is likely to be familiar to horror fans, as it is an adaptation of the time-honored tale, The Monkey’s Paw. Here the paw is a necklace with a charm depicting the three wise monkeys (See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil). Ku Feng and Wang Lai play husband and wife, with their son played by Lau Luk-Wah. Lau works at a local factory, while his parents have a small, but successful fermented tofu business. Ku Feng’s character has adopted the name Wang Zhi-He to help sell his goods, as the real Wang Zhi-He was the man who discovered and popularized bottled, fermented tofu. If you know the story of The Monkey’s Paw, you’ll know what comes next. It is a simple, but effective moral tale, and Li Han-Hsiang adapts it well.

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Purple Darts (1969)

purpledarts_3Purple Darts [紫金鏢] (1969)

Starring Wang Ling, Tung Li, Ou Wei, Cho Kin, Li Kuan-Chang, Lee Fung, Cheung Sai-Sai, Chow Siu-Hing, Tai Leung, Cheung Ching-Fung

Directed by Pan Lei

Expectations: Fairly low.

threehalfstar


It’s a shame that Purple Darts is one of the Shaw Brothers films that never received a DVD release from Celestial, because it’s a great wuxia full of fun characters and tense fights. Its story isn’t always the slickest, the characters’ motivations are usually somewhat cloudy and unexplained, there are “important” things that ultimately mean nothing, and the choreography leaves a lot to be desired, but Purple Darts finds ways to make those discrepancies fly away like a slick wuxia hero. It’s by far the best film I’ve seen from Pan Lei, and I’m sad that his final martial arts film for the Shaw Brothers, 1971’s The Merciful Sword, is currently MIA. Maybe it’ll eventually turn up like Purple Darts.

Like many Shaw martial arts films from the 1960s, Purple Darts opens with an infant in peril. Her parents are under assault from four villainous figures of the martial world: Bai Feng the Butcher, Lu Dachao the Bull Demon, Gu Miaozhen the Seducer, and Wang Yizhou The Wind Waving Scholar. Together they seek the Great Mystery Scriptures, a kung fu manual with unexplained power and importance. The infant’s mother manages to smuggle her out through a hidden tunnel, and an old man takes the baby in. Cue the credits! And now, just as in a good majority of these ’60s wuxias, the credits end and the infant is now a 20-something adult in search of vengeance for the crimes against her parents!

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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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