Redbeard (1971)

Redbeard+1971-84-bRedbeard [紅鬍子] (1971)

Starring Lee Hung, Wang Yin, Chen Chiu, Chen Hung-Lieh, Tsui Fu-Sheng, Cheng Miu, Suen Yuet, Cheung Kwong-Chiu, Siu Gwong-Po, Lo Dik, Man Man, Wong Yu, Liu Chik, Chang I-Fei

Directed by Chang Tseng-Chai

Expectations: High.

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I apologize if this review turns out a little strange; I think it’s mostly going to be me trying to make sense of what I just watched. My confusion isn’t exactly the film’s fault; it’s more to do with the film’s presentation. As an extremely rare Shaw Brothers film, I was only able to track it down as a badly discolored VHS that’s gotta be at least 4th or 5th generation. I can usually deal just fine with this kind of ugliness, but Redbeard is an incredibly talky film, so when half the subtitles are cut off it makes it kinda hard to keep up. I don’t think a beautiful remastered version with full subtitles would fix all the film’s issues, but it would definitely make for a more pleasant experience.

The film opens with a group of people on horseback, led by Little White Snake (Lee Hung), chasing down a train. They assault the moving train in order to rescue their chief, Chow Tian-Hua (Wang Yin). While making their escape, Tian-Hua is wounded, but they make it out alive and to their hideout. From what I could gather, Tian-Hua and his rescuers are the redbeards of the title, although I don’t really have a clear understanding of what a redbeard is. It seems that Tian-hua and his redbeards are some kind of outlaws in opposition of the army, but as the redbeards seem to only want to take care of their own and farm their land, I’m not entirely sure what the conflict is about.

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Mini-Review: That Man in Chang-An (1967)

That Man in Chang-An [幪面大俠] (1967)

Starring Fang Ying, Gam Jan-Fooi, Yen Chun, Allyson Chang Yen, Tang Ti, Tien Feng, Wong Ching Ho, Cheung Kwong Chiu, Piu Liu-Chik, Chiu Ming

Directed by Yen Chun

Expectations: Moderate.


That Man in Chang-An is yet another early Shaw Brothers film that gets as much wrong as it does right. It’s not a poorly made film by any stretch, but it suffers from being overlong and light on the action. The first hour is devoted mostly to setup with only a couple of small sequences of excitement, notably a wagon chase and a fight in the middle of the forest. Both scenes are excellent and are shot with an eye for enhancing the action through quality camera movement. There’s also a fantastic opening sequence in which our hero, The Masked Man, infiltrates the enemy’s castle and steals an Imperial Edict.

The sets are as lavish and beautiful as the costumes, and it’s clear the picture was meant as a costume drama over anything else. The second half of the film does get more interesting with various escape plots and short battles with guards. One of these fights features an impressive horizontal tracking shot that follows the Masked Man as he lays waste to all comers. As you’d expect from an early Shaw film, the choreography leaves a lot to be desired, but the shot is electric nonetheless.

The final fight is pretty exciting though, thanks in part to the undercranked fast motion of the combatants. I’m not a big fan of this technique but it worked very well here to get things moving. At 111 minutes this is a lot longer than your average Shaw film and it feels like it, so any increase in speed is appreciated. There’s also a ton of gorgeous exterior shots that add a lot of flavor to the overall tone of the picture. Ultimately, this is another one strictly for those already attuned to the works of the Shaw Brothers.

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