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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The 14 Amazons (1972)

14amazons_1The 14 Amazons [十四女英豪] (1972)

Starring Ivy Ling Po, Lisa Lu, Lily Ho Li-Li, Yueh Hua, Fan Mei-Sheng, Wong Chung-Shun, Lo Lieh, Tien Feng, Wang Hsieh, Shu Pei-Pei, Wang Ping, Lau Ng-Kei, Karen Yip Leng-Chi, Li Ching, Tina Chin Fei, Ou-Yang Sha-Fei, Wong Gam-Fung, Betty Ting Pei, Teresa Ha Ping, Chen Yan-Yan, Lin Jing, Bolo Yeung, Goo Man-Chung, James Nam Gung-Fan, Tin Ching, Paul Chun Pui, Yeung Chi-Hing, Cheng Miu, Chung Wa

Directed by Cheng Kang

Expectations: Very high. This is one of the greats, right?

fourstar


The 14 Amazons is a true Shaw epic, bringing together a large ensemble cast and a well-known, classic Chinese tale just like The Water Margin had done a few months earlier in 1972. The two films are epics of different proportions, though, and feel almost nothing alike. Where The Water Margin is a small slice of a larger tale (and it feels it), The 14 Amazons feels meatier and more contained (even though it is also part of a larger story). But to compare the two films is wrongheaded, as they complement each other instead of being in competition.

The 14 Amazons is based on the Generals of the Yang family group of stories that have been passed down through Chinese culture since as early as the 11th century. The film specifically tells the story of how the Yang family defended the western Song borders from the invading barbarians from Western Xia. We open on the battlefield as Commander Yang Tsung Pao (Chung Wa) is wounded and cornered without many options. Understanding his fate, he sends two of his generals, Chiao Ting Kuai (Fan Mei-Sheng) & Meng Huai Yuan (Wong Chung-Shun), to travel home to inform his family of his death and to ask for more troops to be sent to the border. They comply against their wishes to stay and help him, and here the film introduces us to the titular female characters.

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Trilogy of Swordsmanship (1972)

trilogyofswordsmanship_5Trilogy of Swordsmanship [群英會] (1972)

Starring Shih Szu, Yueh Hua, Tin Ching, Meng Yuen-Man, Kao Pao-Shu, Bolo Yeung, Cheung Ging-Boh, Lily Ho Li-Li, Lo Lieh, Chung Wa, Chin Han, Wang Ping, Kong Ling, Ku Chiu-Chin, Lau Ng-Kei, Chen Yan-Yan, Lee Wan-Chung, Ti Lung, David Chiang, Li Ching, Ku Feng, Bruce Tong Yim-Chaan, Wong Chung, Wu Chi-Chin, Cheng Lui, Chan Sing, Wang Kuang-Yu, Wong Ching-Ho

Directed by Griffin Yueh Feng, Cheng Kang & Chang Cheh

Expectations: High.

threehalfstar


On more than one occasion I’ve said that anthology movies just aren’t my thing. But a Shaw Brothers anthology film? My interest was piqued, although the mere idea of a wuxia anthology film seems like something of a ludicrous idea. Even at a full 90 or 120 minutes, a wuxia story is compressed and hard to understand, so cutting three of them to fit into a total of 107 minutes just doesn’t seem like a good idea. But it is. Totally.

Each film brings something unique to the screen. The first tale, directed by Griffin Yueh Feng (even if the screen credit says otherwise), is called The Iron Bow. It’s a lighthearted tale of love and unwanted attention, and it’s a perfect example of how to stage a martial arts short story. Master Shi (Tin Ching) is infatuated with the young Ying Ying (Shih Szu), but she doesn’t care for him at all. He is a rich official who comes with a procession of men to ask for her hand in marriage, but Ying Ying’s father thought ahead. When he died he left an iron bow in the family’s restaurant, and said that any man who could draw the bow was worthy of his daughter’s hand. This leads to many comical situations to balance the wuxia violence, and it results in a very pleasing bite-sized film. Yueh Hua and Shih Szu also have a fantastic spear battle, and Bolo Yueng pops up at the end with a rare full head of hair. Pure entertainment, if a bit light.

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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 Golden Seal (1971)

the golden sealThe Golden Seal [金印仇] (1971)

Starring Chung Wa, Wang Ping, Ku Feng, Yue Fung, Baak Liu, Chan Shen, Wong Ching Ho, Cliff Lok Kam Tung, Teresa Ha Ping, Fang Mian

Directed by Tien Feng

Expectations: Moderate.

twohalfstar


If you’re a fan of the 1960s output of the Shaw Studios, and you’re looking for a later film with the same ideals and only slightly better fights, then look no further than The Golden Seal! Directed by veteran Shaw character actor Tien Feng, The Golden Seal is something of a throwback wuxia film that does as many things right as it does wrong. It’s still largely entertaining and enjoyable, it’s just that at this point in the Shaw series, films like this stand out as being much worse because of the films surrounding them. If this were made even a couple of years earlier, it would’ve been far more impressive.

The Golden Seal is not exactly about a golden seal like you might expect (and that’s an official seal for documents and such, not the animal that barks and balances things on their noses when humans throw them fish). It does kick itself off with the seal, though, as it is entrusted to its owner’s brother who is tasked with taking it and his nephew out of harm’s way. But that exact moment is when the devious Lei Zhentian (Ku Feng) busts in and starts tearin’ up the place, so the uncle and the boy sneak away in a cart. During the opening credits, said cart is driven off a dangerous cliff, but don’t worry, our heroic duo is safe. One cut later and 20 years have passed, with the boy all grown up (now played by Chung Wa) and just finishing his martial arts study under the grand tutelage of Tien Feng in a much-too-small cameo.

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The Eunuch (1971)

Eunuch+1971-1-bThe Eunuch [鬼太監] (1971)

Starring Pai Ying, Lisa Chiao Chiao, Chung Wa, Yeung Chi Hing, Yung Yuk-Yi, Mang Ga, Wang Hsieh, Lo Wei, Ou-Yang Sha-Fei, Hao Li-Jen, James Tin Jun

Directed by Teddy Yip Wing-Cho

Expectations: Moderate.

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Any fan of Hong Kong movies will know the significance of the eunuch in the Hong Kong cinematic universe. They often provide wuxia tales with a wild villain wielding powers untold, but I went into The Eunuch expecting it to be a little more reserved and toned down. There have only been one or two eunuchs that have shown up so far during the Shaw series, and if I remember right, they were all pretty disappointing. The eunuch in The Eunuch might not be the guy in The Heroic Trio or Tai Chi Master, but he is pretty dope, and he provides our heroes with a devious, dastardly villain to contend with throughout the film.

The Eunuch starts off with a bit of a bait and switch, though, as its story starts by introducing the title eunuch (played masterfully by Pai Ying) and showing us an assassination attempt on his life. It’s hard out there for a eunuch, but after he dodges this cheap shot, he seeks out the culprit (who happens to be the king, played by director Lo Wei) and ruthlessly kills him and his family. Even his young son is not safe, as the eunuch grabs him, flings him across the room and one of the eunuch’s henchmen slices open his body in mid-air. Moral of the story: don’t fuck with eunuchs. It’s truly gnarly, and it makes you feel bad for feeling bad about the attempt on this guy’s life. It’s a great switcheroo, and just as the eunuch thinks he’s sealed up the murder of the entire royal family, he realizes that the prince is missing, so the hunt is on!

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