The Killer (1972)

thekiller_1The Killer [大殺手] (1972)
AKA Sacred Knives of Vengeance

Starring Chin Han, Chung Wa, Wang Ping, Chiang Nan, Cheng Miu, Yeung Chi-Hing, Ku Feng, Cheng Kang-Yeh, Cheng Lui, Wang Kuang-Yu

Directed by Chor Yuen

Expectations: High.

threehalfstar


The Killer didn’t exactly light up the Hong Kong box office when it was released, but it offers a great take on a simple and classic martial arts storyline. Hsiao Hu (Chung Wa) returns to his hometown after an absence of many years, only to find that it has been overrun by drug smugglers! Hsiao is told that it’s the work of a large martial arts school in town, so he roughs up the students and breaks their sign. But the school is actually innocent of all wrongdoing; Hsiao is being played! To protect themselves, the school calls in Inspector Ma (Chin Han) to bring Hsiao to justice. The only thing is that Hsiao and Ma are old friends from their youth in the circus, and they both love Xiao Mei (Wang Ping), who’s now a famous singer in town. Ah shucks, how’re they gonna get outta this one? Sounds like the kind of story that Chang Cheh (or Three’s Company) could’ve had a field day with, but director Chor Yuen handles it with a slightly softer touch than Chang would have used.

Chor Yuen tells the main story very directly as you’d expect in a genre film, but the character’s back stories are handled with quick flashbacks that inform us in short order who these people are and how their lives are — or were — intertwined. This deft economy of storytelling adds an artistic flair to The Killer which sets it apart a lot from similarly themed brotherhood films. The audience is also in on the deception right from the beginning, so we’re watching both how the dominoes are set up and how they gloriously fall down.

Continue reading The Killer (1972) →

Mission Impossible (1971)

missionimpossible_5Mission Impossible [劍女幽魂] (1971)

Starring Ching Li, Chen Hung-Lieh, Chiang Nan, O Yau-Man, Su Chen-Ping, Ma Kei, Yee Yuen, Ngai So, Tsai Hung, Yuen Sam, Law Bun, Lui Jun

Directed by Joseph Kuo Nan-Hong

Expectations: Moderate.

threestar


Mission Impossible is a rare Shaw Brothers film. When Celestial Pictures acquired the rights to the Shaw catalog and they undertook the massive project of remastering and re-releasing the films to DVD, there were a number of movies that somehow slipped through the cracks. Perhaps prints were lost or some such unavoidable circumstances occurred. Some films were remastered but never transitioned to DVD for unexplained reasons, only appearing on the Singapore-only Zii Eagle set-top box that contains hundreds of Shaw films. Mission Impossible is one of those slip-through-the-cracks, unremastered movies, so the print is pretty bad. Not the worst I’ve seen, but still a huge step down from what I’ve become accustomed to while making my way through the catalog. I’ve definitely become spoiled.

But sometimes it’s good to revisit your roots, so I actually kind of enjoyed watching Mission Impossible in its damaged form that reminded me of how most Shaw films used to look before Celestial took over. They were neglected, dingy prints that were incredibly hard to come by in the US (exacerbated by the fact that the Internet was in its infancy and I was still a teenager with limited resources). But there is a special charm to watching old, faded prints. Are the dark, shadowy visuals just the print, or was the cinematography specifically designed to achieve this look? The fun of a bad print is that it is up to you to deduce the filmmaker’s intent from the context clues. Definitely not a task that everyone will get a kick out of, though. 🙂

Continue reading Mission Impossible (1971) →

Oath of Death (1971)

OathofDeath_1Oath of Death [萬箭穿心] (1971)

Starring Lo Lieh, Tien Feng, Wai Wang, Ling Ling, Cheung Pooi-Saan, Yeung Oi-Wa, Bolo Yeung, Gam Kei-Chu, Lee Siu-Chung, Wang Ping, Liu Wai, Law Hon, Chiang Nan, Lee Wan-Chung

Directed by Pao Hsueh-Li

Expectations: Moderately high.

threehalfstar


Oath of Death doesn’t waste any time getting to the action. It begins immediately following the familiar Shaw fanfare, but this explosive opening is somewhat misleading. After the first act of the film sets up the characters and their struggle for righteousness, just about the entire second act is completely devoid of action. It was during this section that I became somewhat bored (despite enjoying a lot of the tension at work between the characters), but then a magical thing occurred. The final 20 minutes of this movie are incredible. The stuff contained in these 20 minutes are the epitome of what I want out of a Shaw Brothers film. This raises my estimation of Oath of Death quite a bit, and I doubt that any fan of gore could contain themselves as the final moments play out. I may not remember the story beats one-by-one, but I will never forget how this movie ends.

Oath of Death tells the story of three sworn brothers. They are valiant Song supporters fighting a rebellion against the ruthless invaders, the Tartars. Together, the blood brothers build a fortress to gather an army, because, as Tien Feng tells his brothers, in unity there is strength. When the fortress is complete, the three leaders (played by Tien Feng, Lo Lieh and Wai Wang) swear an oath to each other to do everything in their power to thwart the Tartar rulers, and whoever doesn’t hold up their end of the bargain will be killed without mercy. The story expands from here, involving lots of tests of their brotherly bonds and grand bloodshed. The plot is somewhere in between a wuxia and a martial arts film, forming a great bridge for the two genres to get to know each other.

Continue reading Oath of Death (1971) →

Subscribe via Email!

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 77 other subscribers

Ongoing Series

Top Posts & Pages