The Villains (1973)

villains_1The Villains [土匪] (1973)

Starring Yueh Hua, Shih Szu, Chen Hung-Lieh, Cheng Miu, Chin Feng, Dean Shek Tin, Lee Pang-Fei, Chan Shen, Betty Pei Ti, Wong Ching-Ho

Directed by Chor Yuen

Expectations: High.

threestar


I went into Chor Yuen’s The Villains without knowing whether it fit within the purview of my Shaw Brothers martial arts series or not, but I decided to give it a go anyway based on my affection for Chor Yuen’s previous films and that Yuen Woo-Ping and Yuen Cheung-Yan were listed as Action Directors on HKMDB. That same HKMDB listing also cites the film’s genre as action, but I had heard that it was actually more of a drama. Turns out it’s a bit of both, but drama is definitely the dominant genre. The action is merely there for flavor and color; it is not the focus in any way.

The film opens at a train station where Fang Zheng (Yueh Hua) is to pick up his cousin, Lin Xiao Hong (Shih Szu). Lin is coming to stay with Fang’s family after the death of her parents, even though there has been much turmoil and strife between the two sides of the family. And little does she know, she’s stepping into a hotbed of Fang household drama, too, where Master Fang (Cheng Miu) supports his delinquent, gambling son Fang Feng (Chen Hung-Lieh) and is somewhat ashamed of his honorable son Fang Zheng.

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Police Story (1985)

PoliceStory_1Police Story [警察故事] (1985)
AKA Police Force, Jackie Chan’s Police Force, Jackie Chan’s Police Story

Starring Jackie Chan, Brigitte Lin, Maggie Cheung, Bill Tung, Chor Yuen, Charlie Cho Cha-Lee, Kent Tong Chun-Yip, Mars, Lam Gwok-Hung, David Lau Chi-Wing, Kam Hing-Yin, Wan Fat, Fung Hak-On, Tai Bo

Directed by Jackie Chan

Expectations: It’s Police Story! It’s awesome!

fourstar


To make this review more exciting, listen to Jackie’s dope Police Story theme song while you read!

Police Story is one of the most influential and important Jackie Chan films, and it was always one of my favorites during my teenage obsession. But I hadn’t seen it in 15 or so years, and to be completely honest I found Police Story to be less thrilling than my memories of it. Part of my problem was that I incorrectly remembered that a bunch of stuff from Police Story 2 was in this one, but the root of my disappointment stemmed more from forgetting that Police Story, like most Jackie Chan films, contains a lot of humor. Those are my problems, though, and they shouldn’t sully the legacy of Police Story.

The film opens in amazing fashion, as Jackie and a team of cops are tasked with staking out a shantytown where a drug lord (played wonderfully by the great Shaw Brothers director Chor Yuen) is making a deal. The tone is immediately very serious and the film feels markedly different from all the Sammo Hung-directed films that Jackie had been in previously, even Heart of Dragon (which is actually a great bridge between the two tones). The feel is also distinct because Jackie is a very different style of director than Sammo, crafting films that are less visually exciting (from a framing/camera placement/editing standpoint), but yet, thanks to the incredulity of the stunt work, are also intensely more visually arresting. I think these days I prefer Sammo’s style, but Jackie is more of a visionary dreaming up insane stunts to consistently push himself and that is worthy of major respect. I guess what I’m trying to say is that Jackie — at least up to this point — was a director more focused on the planning and staging of elaborate spectacles, where Sammo was more down to Earth and traditional.

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The Lizard (1972)

thelizard_1The Lizard [壁虎] (1972)

Starring Yueh Hua, Connie Chan Po-Chu, Lo Lieh, Yeung Chi-Hing, Goo Man-Chung, Lydia Shum, Cheng Kang-Yeh, Chan Ho, Ou-Yang Sha-Fei, Wu Ma, Choi Yuen-Ping, Ma Chien-Tang, Chung Wa

Directed by Chor Yuen

Expectations: Moderate.

threestar


Director Chor Yuen’s previous film in this review series was the multi-genre masterpiece Intimate Confessions of a Chinese Courtesan, and with The Lizard he applies the same principles to different genres. The Lizard is a simple film on the surface, but once it gets rolling it reveals itself as a fairly dense hybrid film, mainly mashing kung fu together with comedy. There were Shaw Bros martial arts films that had some laughs prior to this, but none that go directly for the laughs throughout like The Lizard. So, at least in terms of the Shaw output, this is most likely the first attempt at a true kung fu comedy.

For this alone, The Lizard is notable and actually kind of subversive for its day; as Chang Cheh was pushing the martial arts genre forward into dramatic, male-dominated bashers with each subsequent film, Chor Yuen dared to go in a completely different direction. The Lizard takes a well-worn wuxia storyline (the tale of a Robin Hood-like masked figure) and transports it to the modern era. Chor Yuen then adds a couple tablespoons of romance, a pinch of thriller, a dollop of the casino film (actually outright stealing the ability to accurately hear dice rolling from The Casino‘s main character, who was also played by Yueh Hua), and a few sprinkles of wuxia so that his characters can leap around the wonderfully constructed Shaw Bros. sets.

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Intimate Confessions of a Chinese Courtesan (1972)

IntimateConfessionsofaChineseCourtesan_1Intimate Confessions of a Chinese Courtesan [愛奴] (1972)
AKA Ainu

Starring Lily Ho Li-Li, Betty Pei Ti, Yueh Hua, Tung Lam, Man Chung-San, Fan Mei-Sheng, Goo Man-Chung, Chan Shen, Fang Mian, Chan Ho, Sze-Ma Wah-Lung, Lee Ho, Hoh Gong

Directed by Chor Yuen

Expectations: Very high.

fourstar


If you boil it down to its bare elements, Intimate Confessions of a Chinese Courtesan is a simple revenge story. At the same time, it’s something of a revisionist version of the simple revenge story, as the film’s plot plays out far different than any previous Shaw Brothers revenge film (and believe me, there were a lot of those!). The film is also gorgeously well-directed by the one and only Chor Yuen, who is able to construct an artful, rousing melodrama from the base elements of a trashy genre film. It’s something to behold.

The film begins with a green-tinted sequence where an investigator (Yueh Hua) questions a man who found a dead body. The end of the scene connects us to a time years prior, where, now in full color, we are shown the film’s title and a sequence full of slow motion and sheer fabric. The woman at the center of this scene is Lady Chun (Betty Pei Ti), a madam who rules her profitable brothel with a figurative iron fist (gotta make that clear in a Shaw Bros film!). This particular day is a fateful one, as Lady Chun receives a newly kidnapped shipment of young girls, one of which is the divinely beautiful Ainu (Lily Ho Li-Li).

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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.

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Duel for Gold (1971)

duelforgold_1Duel for Gold [火併] (1971)

Starring Ivy Ling Po, Wang Ping, Chin Han, Lo Lieh, Richard Chan Chun, Fan Mei-Sheng, Lee Pang-Fei, Chung Wa, Tong Tin-Hei, Yeung Chak-Lam, Wong Wai, Law Hon, Lee Siu-Chung, Lau Kwan, Unicorn Chan, Simon Chui Yee-Ang

Directed by Chor Yuen

Expectations: I’m so excited.

threehalfstar


In his first film with the Shaw Brothers, director Chor Yuen emerges immediately as a new force in the genre, painting visual pictures and telling a thrilling story unlike anything seen yet in the Shaw Brothers catalog. Duel for Gold was by no means his first film (he had already made 67 films since starting directing in 1957), and his experience behind the camera elevates this wuxia heist yarn to excellent heights. It is held back by some average choreography throughout a good portion of the film, but you can’t win them all. I especially look forward to his next film, The Killer, which features Yuen Woo-Ping’s first choreography work for the Shaw Brothers (working alongside his brother Yuen Cheung-Yan, already a Shaw Brothers choreographer).

But before we get too deep into the fights, Duel for Gold‘s story is equally important to its success. Written by the ever dependable Ni Kuang, Duel for Gold is exactly what it sounds like, a duel among thieves and the security force of the Fu Lai Security Bureau for 100,000 taels of gold. The film opens as the credits come on-screen over slow-motion shots of battling heroes. But the focus is not on these warriors, instead the camera is focused on an incidental item in the foreground: a barren tree branch; a broken, bloody gravestone; the swaying grass. In between these shots are a bunch of quick cuts of the battle’s aftermath, of the carnage wrought by expertly handled swords and greed. And then the voice of a narrator directly addresses the audience, telling us that we’re right to assume the film is about men dying for money, and that what we’re seeing is the ending to the tale, but to indulge him as he tells us the story of how we got there.

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The Magic Blade (1976)

The Magic Blade [天涯明月刀] (1976)

Starring Ti Lung, Lo Lieh, Ku Feng, Tang Ching, Ching Li, Lily Li Li-Li, Fan Mei-Sheng, Chan Shen

Directed by Chor Yuen

Expectations: High.


My expectations for this were just soaring after watching Shaolin Intruders. The two films have absolutely nothing to do with each other except that they’re both Shaw Bros. pictures and Tang Chia choreographed the fights, but you could connect most any Shaw Bros. film with that logic. Needless to say, I was let down. The Magic Blade is an interesting movie as it doesn’t really contain a magic blade. You might expect there to be one in a film titled The Magic Blade, but not in this film. There is the rather neato blade that Ti Lung uses throughout the film, but magic isn’t exactly the adjective I’d use to describe it. It’s on a harness attached to his arm that allows it to spin when he wants it to, but it isn’t really used all that much in the film so don’t get too worked up about it. This is possible magic blade candidate number one. Number two is where I’m placing my money though, as the film revolves around everyone trying to get a hold of it. The weapon in question is the mysterious Peacock Dart, a weapon so powerful that — well, I’ll let them explain it.

“The Dart when hurled, emits mysterious and beautiful rays, and the victim dies in a mysterious way.”

“And no one is immune to it.”

After which the dart is thrown, resulting in multiple explosions of light and smoke that very conveniently kill only the hero’s enemies. No one is immune to movie logic either I guess. Anyway I don’t mean to complain, that shit was fun to watch.

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