Judgement of an Assassin (1977)

Judgement of an Assassin [決殺令] (1977)

Starring David Chiang, Chung Wah, Ching Li, Michael Chan Wai-Man, Wai Wang, Ku Feng, Wang Lai, Cheng Miu, Lau Wai-Ling, Ngaai Fei, Ku Wen-Chung, Ku Kuan-Chung, Bruce Tong Yim-Chaan, Chan Shen, Yeung Chi-Hing, Ou-Yang Sha-Fei

Directed by Sun Chung

Expectations: High. I’ve wanted to see this one for a while.


Judgement of an Assassin sees director Sun Chung re-inserting himself into the newly revitalized wuxia genre. He made one of my all-time favorite Shaw wuxias, 1972’s The Devil’s Mirror, but his filmography is devoid of wuxias up until Judgement of an Assassin. To say that I was eagerly anticipating this film is underselling it some, especially because the next year Sun went on to make The Avenging Eagle, a film I happened to catch in the theater some years ago and have been in love with ever since. Judgement of an Assassin had a lot to live up to, and it absolutely stood up to the challenge. It is a wuxia that feels unique amidst the vast Shaw catalog up to this point, and it is sort of a middle ground between the brooding darkness of Chor Yuen and the comic book sensibilities Chang Cheh brought to life in The Brave Archer. It is also a return to the general fun of early Shaw wuxias, but with all the excitement and thrills of 1977 choreography. Like previous Sun Chung films, Judgement of an Assassin has immediately endeared itself to me, and I see it becoming a favorite I’ll return to often.

Masked assassins raid the home of the Golden Axe Clan, but when the final blow is dealt to the clan leader, the assassin boldly states his name for the record. Surely, this has to be a setup, right? Who would do that? The named man is arrested for this crime and placed inside a spiked coffin designed to limit the prisoner’s movement and torture him simultaneously. He is taken to the house of Madam Fa (Wang Lai), who will preside over the grand hearing to determine his fate. The entire martial world converges on the trial, with some members utilizing the opportunity to jockey for power, while others attempt to uncover the truth of the murder on their own. Like any good wuxia, Judgement of an Assassin is filled with many colorful characters, but here the main character is actually the martial world itself. It’s a great choice to tell this particular story, though I can see some not connecting with it if you’re looking for a more conventional film.

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To Kill a Jaguar (1977)

To Kill a Jaguar [絕不低頭] (1977)

Starring Chung Wah, Lau Wing, Nora Miao, Ling Yun, Wai Wang, Fan Mei-Sheng, Chan Shen, Hao Li-Jen, Siu Yam-Yam, Johnny Wang Lung-Wei, Lam Fai-Wong, Keung Hon, Lee Hang, Jamie Luk Kim-Ming, Gam Lau, Mak Wa-Mei, Alan Chan Kwok-Kuen, Wong Ching-Ho, Ting Lai-Na, Sai Gwa-Pau

Directed by Hua Shan

Expectations: Moderate. Don’t know what to expect, really.


I had never heard of To Kill a Jaguar until I compiled my chronological list of Shaw Brothers martial arts films, so I didn’t quite know what I was getting myself into. This is true of many Shaw films that I’ve reviewed, but in this particular case I feel that To Kill a Jaguar should be spotlighted as something unique and worthwhile. To Kill a Jaguar is every bit a ’70s Shaw picture, but it flirts with the multi-genre trade that would come to define Hong Kong cinema in the ’80s and ’90s, and perhaps most interestingly it is an adaptation of a non-wuxia Gu Long novel made amidst the sea of fan-favorite Gu Long adaptations from director Chor Yuen. I’m sure To Kill a Jaguar was greenlit due to the success of Chor’s films, and so then it should come as no surprise that the film is more similar to them than you might think at first glance.

Based on the 1973 Gu Long novel, Never Bow Down (絕不低頭, also the film’s Chinese title), our story begins with Bobo Kam (Nora Miao) arriving in Republic-era Shanghai in search of her father. It is a dangerous place where street gangs battle with knives and hatchets, and she stumbles into one such battle. One man stands out from the crowd with distinctive sideburns and a fistful of keys as his weapon; Jaguar (Chung Wah) is clearly not your average street thug. After the fight subsides, Bobo and Jaguar realize this isn’t their first time meeting. Jaguar was once known to Bobo as “Silly Kid,” a snot-nosed fat boy who played with Bobo and a mutual friend, He Lie, way back when in Stone Village. Things have definitely changed over the years for Bobo and Jaguar, and if you know anything about Gu Long stories, you know these characters are in for a lot more, as well.

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Lady Exterminator (1977)

Lady Exterminator [阿Sir毒后老虎槍] (1977)

Starring Chen Ping, Yueh Hua, Chung Wah, Derek Yee, Shirley Yu Sha-Li, Shut Chung-Tin, Wa Lun, Zheng Lou-Si, Jamie Luk Kim-Ming, Yeung Chi-Hing, Keung Hon, Chiang Tao, Ku Wen-Chung, Ng Hong-Sang, Stephan Yip Tin-Hang, Kong San

Directed by Sun Chung

Expectations: I enjoyed The Sexy Killer. I hope the sequel is fun, too.


Lady Exterminator is an ultra-rare Shaw Brothers film, as far as I know only surviving as a horribly degraded, full-screen bootleg of a Lebanese film print with English-dubbed dialogue and French & Arabic burned-in subtitles. Bootlegs have done a lot of harm to the kung fu DVD industry, but there are a few instances like this where bootlegs help the fan base keep an otherwise lost film alive. While this mangled print theoretically shouldn’t have any bearing on the film’s quality, it inevitably made it difficult to get into the film. I’m not usually a fan of English dubs anyway; I have a hard time connecting with characters emotionally when their dialogue doesn’t accurately reflect the emotions on-screen. Even with these factors stacked against my enjoyment of Lady Exterminator, I was still able to extract a fair amount of entertainment. The fact that it was a sequel helped, too, because I was already familiar with the characters that Chen Ping and Yueh Hua play.

A gang of criminals have discovered a police informer in their midst. They chase him through the streets and into the dank tunnels under the city, leading the pursuit to the subway system. The criminals catch the fleeing man and brutally beat him. They tie him to the subway tracks on all fours, so he is looking directly at the oncoming train as it plows into him. It’s a gripping way to open a film, and these moments of intense brutality are one of the few things helped by the horrific quality of the print. Shot in real locations around Hong Kong, filtered through multiple generations of video dubs, the brutal violence takes on the vibe of a snuff film found at the bottom of a well. Anyway, with his lead informant murdered, police detective Geng Weiping (Yueh Hua) must find a new way to get information out of the heroin-dealing drug gangs running rampant through the city. He turns to Gao Wanfei (Chen Ping), now in prison after the events of The Sexy Killer, where she took on the drug gang that killed her sister. Gao agrees, but she wants to do it right. She decides to shoot up some heroin, addicting herself so the gang believes her and easily accepts her into the fold. Now that’s commitment!

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King Gambler (1976)

King Gambler [賭王大騙局] (1976)

Starring Chung Wah, Chen Kuan-Tai, Chen Ping, Shut Chung-Tin, Ou-Yang Sha-Fei, Wang Hsieh, Ku Feng, Fan Mei-Sheng, Teresa Ha Ping, Chui Ga-Lam, Wong Chung, A Mei-Na, Chan Mei-Hua, Liu Wu-Chi, Ma Chien-Tang, Chan Shen, Kong Yeung, Ku Wen-Chung, Terry Lau Wai-Yue, Ling Yun, Shum Lo, Yeung Chi-Hing, Cheng Miu, Wong Ching-Ho, Lau Luk-Wah

Directed by Cheng Kang

Expectations: Super excited to see more Cheng Kang… and it’s a gambling movie!


There are many gambling movies from all over the world, but the Hong Kong gambling film is a beast all its own. I am a huge fan of this sub-genre of Hong Kong cinema, and of the filmmaker most associated with it: Wong Jing. Over the course of my chronological Shaw Brothers series, I’ve covered a couple of early gambling films (The Casino, The Gambling Syndicate), but those films feel like extensions of the traditional action genre more than they resemble what the gambling genre evolved into. King Gambler, on the other hand, is right on the money when it comes to tone and style. The film was clearly an influence on Wong Jing, as both directors showcase similar ideas and sensibilities in how they portray gambling and the people involved in the games. As such, I really enjoyed Cheng Kang’s King Gambler. Apparently 1976 Hong Kong shared my enthusiasm, too, because the film made #9 at the yearly box office (with only a couple of Shaw films doing better that year).

King Gambler is a structurally interesting movie. It begins by introducing us to the Sha family and how their mastery in sleight of hand and other forms of trickery were passed down from one generation to another. We then see a short game of mahjong, in which one of the Sha family members (played by Shut Chung-Tin) beats the young Peng Tian Shi (Chen Kuan-Tai). The resentment of being so resoundingly beaten does not sit well with Peng, and when the film flashes forward many years, Peng is now a wealthy casino owner known as The Card Tyrant. He has not risen above his feelings surrounding the Sha family, though. Peng offers an elder Sha (Wang Hsieh) a job, but he refuses to use his superior hearing skills to cheat for Peng. Retaliation comes swift and brutal, leaving the elder Sha permanently blinded. This is merely the first few minutes of the film; the prologue. The majority of the movie concerns itself with the young members of the Sha family and how they deal with Peng in the wake of this offense.

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Killer Clans (1976)

Killer Clans [流星蝴蝶劍] (1976)

Starring Chung Wah, Yueh Hua, Ku Feng, Ching Li, Wong Chung, Lo Lieh, Danny Lee, Yeung Chi-Hing, Cheng Miu, Ngaai Fei, Wang Hsieh, Lam Wai-Tiu, Chen Ping, Ling Yun, Fan Mei-Sheng, Teresa Ha Ping, Kong Yeung, Tin Ching, Cheng Kang-Yeh, Ku Kuan-Chung

Directed by Chor Yuen

Expectations: Super high. Been looking forward to these Chor Yuen wuxias for a long time.


In the lineage of Shaw Brothers wuxias, Killer Clans represents the dawn of a new paradigm. The number of wuxia films released by the studio had diminished considerably from the early days of the genre, when literally every martial arts film was a sword-swingin’ tale of chivalrous heroes. In the few years prior to Killer Clans, a good portion of the wuxias released by Shaw were actually holdovers from earlier years, finally released and then promptly forgotten. But Killer Clans, based on Meteor, Butterfly, Sword (流星·蝴蝶·劍), a 1973 novel by Gu Long, performed well enough to make the year’s box office top 10 (either #6 or #7, depending on the source).

To say that this new direction in wuxia filmmaking was a success is an understatement, but it almost never was. Like Chang Cheh, ever searching for a subject that would light the fires of passion, Chor Yuen felt stagnant and in need of a fresh style of film. Chor had abandoned wuxia filmmaking for Cantonese comedies (The House of 72 Tenants, etc.) and dramas (Sorrow to the Gentry, etc.), but the diminishing box office takings of these films demanded he look elsewhere for his film ideas. He decided to adapt some wuxia novels in a style unlike the traditional Shaw wuxia film, but Run Run Shaw rejected every one of his pitches saying that they wouldn’t make money.

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The Bastard (1973)

TheBastard_1The Bastard [小雜種] (1973)

Starring Chung Wa, Lily Li Li-Li, Kiu Lam, Cheng Miu, Lau Dan, Cheng Lui, Chan Chan-Kong, Lee Ho, Wu Chi-Chin, Chan Shen, Yeung Chi-Hing, Ou-Yang Sha-Fei, Chan Ho

Directed by Chor Yuen

Expectations: Hopeful.

twohalfstar


Judging by the opening minutes of The Bastard, you’d think it was going to be a fight heavy film. But just like you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, nor should you judge a movie on its first few minutes. The Bastard might begin with a brief, wuxia-tinged fight, but it is neither an action-heavy film or a wuxia film. It’s closer to a comedy-drama, and I must admit that I was disappointed, but it is a Chor Yuen film so even in disappointment it’s still a pretty good movie.

The context of this opening fight is important: it represents the completion of our lead character’s martial arts training with his master who raised him from birth. Our hero (Chung Wa) was found as a baby on the temple steps, so he has no idea of his parentage or even his name. In fact, we don’t even know his name; the only thing he’s ever called in the film is “Little Bastard,” a moniker bestowed upon him by the first man he meets on his quest for identity.

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Call to Arms (1973)

CalltoArms+1973-47-bCall to Arms [盜兵符] (1973)

Starring Chung Wa, Ha Faan, Cheung Ban, Wang Hsieh, Chan Shen, Yeung Chi-Hing, Ku Wen-Chung, Teresa Ha Ping, Tung Li, Bolo Yeung, Cheng Miu, Lee Wan-Chung, Shum Lo, Wang Kuang-Yu, Yau Ming, Ho Wan-Tai, Tong Tin-Hei, Liu Wai

Directed by Shen Chiang

Expectations: Moderately high. Shen Chiang usually delivers something entertaining.

twohalfstar


Right before I started Call to Arms, I pulled up its page on the HKMDB. I often do this with these mid-tier Shaw Brothers films, as it helps me keep more accurate notes about the characters and actors. Anyway, when I did this I caught a glimpse of the film’s poster, which is about as exciting as a page of text from a history textbook. It’s not exactly the type of marketing I expect a martial arts film to have, and it was my first clue that Call to Arms would be a different type of Shaw film.

It’s a good thing that I had this clue going into the film, otherwise I might have been quite disappointed with what I got. Call to Arms is much more of a historical epic than it is a martial arts action picture, and it’s within this distinction that the film ends up being sorta mediocre. The story, while dense and filled with intrigue, isn’t the most interesting and it’s also fairly hard to follow. Thankfully, the fights are fun and exciting, but they aren’t fun or exciting enough to make up for the story. I would like to note that fans of Chinese history, who come to the film with a better understanding of the country’s warring states period, will more than likely get more out of the story than I did.

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