Back Alley Princess (1973)

BackAlleyPrincess+1973-4-bBack Alley Princess [馬路小英雄] (1973)

Starring Polly Kuan, Samuel Hui Koon-Kit, Lau Wing, Angela Mao, Lee Kwan, Tien Feng, Wang Lai, Tong Ching, Carter Wong, Wu Jia-Xiang, Han Ying-Chieh, Fung Ngai, Huang Chung-Hsin

Directed by Lo Wei

Expectations: Hmm?

onehalfstar


Back Alley Princess feels like one of those movies that was popular in its day, but it’s hard for a modern viewer to see exactly why. It’s an odd mix of a light comedic tone, heavy drama involving a prostitution ring, and some martial arts action… none of which are of quality enough to stand on their own. Ordinarily a multi-genre film like this might have a story that strings it all together, but in the case of Back Alley Princess that didn’t seem to be too high of a priority (which is somewhat odd, because Lo Wei generally packs a lot of story twists and turns into his scripts).

What Back Alley Princess is full off is a whole lot of working-class strife. Chili Boy (Polly Kuan) — AKA Hot Pepper Kid in some translations — and Embroidered Pillow (Samuel Hui) are a team of con-men doing whatever they can to make a few bucks and survive on the streets of Hong Kong. This leads them to meet up with the martial arts troupe of Teacher Chiang (Tien Feng), who agrees to join up with Chili and Embroidered Pillow in the interest of making more money. But this isn’t really the foundation of a story, as the film’s main concern is seemingly to endear Chili Boy to the audience so Lo Wei can drive the point home how important family and community are to the individual.

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Fist of Fury (1972)

FistofFury_1Fist of Fury [精武門] (1972)
AKA The Chinese Connection

Starring Bruce Lee, Nora Miao, Tien Feng, James Tin Jun, Wong Chung-Shun, Han Ying-Chieh, Ngai Ping-Ngo, Riki Hashimoto, Robert Baker, Fung Ngai, Lo Wei, Jun Katsumura

Directed by Lo Wei

Expectations: I’m so excited.

fourstar


Fist of Fury is arguably the best of Bruce Lee’s films. After the building storm of The Big Boss, Fist of Fury ups the action and delivers what just about every modern, Western viewer of The Big Boss wanted: a movie where Bruce Lee basically just goes around and kicks ass. The storyline here is little more than simple revenge, but it’s the way that Lo Wei and Bruce Lee explore this theme that makes it such an iconic, influential and important Chinese film. On the surface it’s quite the “Defending China against Foreign Invaders” movie, but it’s also a cautionary tale.

The film opens with some text, informing us that Bruce’s master and the leader of the Ching Wu school, Ho Yuan Chia, was poisoned. Ho was real person, a Chinese folk hero who rose to fame for besting foreign martial artists, such as a Russian wrestler. I imagine he was the inspiration for the Russian wrestling scene in The Boxer from Shantung. Anyway, Bruce returns home to find that his master is dead. Consumed with rage and grief, he claws at the dirt covering his master’s coffin. The only thing that stops his fury is a swift hit with a shovel to the head, knocking him out. His rage is furious and unstoppable, and he will stop at nothing to get justice for his master.

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The Boxer from Shantung (1972)

boxerfromshantung_6The Boxer from Shantung [馬永貞] (1972)
AKA Ma Yong Zhen, The Shantung Boxer, The Killer from Shantung

Starring Chen Kuan-Tai, Ching Li, Cheng Kang-Yeh, David Chiang, Chiang Nan, Fung Ngai, Ku Feng, Tin Ching, Wong Ching, Mario Milano, Chan Ho, Lee Man-Tai, Liu Wai, Shum Lo

Directed by Chang Cheh & Pao Hsueh-Li

Expectations: High.

threehalfstar


Ma Yong Zhen (Chen Kuan-Tai) has recently moved to Shanghai from the country with his best friend, and he’s sure that the good days will come. A chance meeting with local crime boss Master Tan Si (David Chiang in a fantastic small role) introduces Ma to a different way of life, one that he’d like to live for himself. Yes, The Boxer from Shantung is a Shaw Brothers version of the Scarface story (11 years prior to Brian De Palma’s famous remake), but honestly, the crime story — while skillfully told and engaging — is also one of the film’s weaknesses for modern viewers. We’ve just seen this kind of film far too many times to truly lose ourselves in all the characters’ struggles, although with all the fun martial arts battles, you could definitely do a lot worse than The Boxer from Shantung.

The film is notable for introducing the world to Chen Kuan-Tai, and there couldn’t have been a better story for him to debut with. By showing his character’s rise, we are able to watch Chen Kuan-Tai flex his acting skill along with his martial abilities. He is skilled in both regards, and almost single-handedly makes The Boxer from Shantung a remarkable film to watch. Chen exhibits no nervousness or shaky acting. He is a force of resolute, badass charm throughout the film, exuding star power and raw energy. Throughout the film he always retains his decency, so the character never falls so deep into self-destruction that he becomes unlikeable. This role could have easily gone to Ti Lung to make this yet another Ti Lung/David Chiang/Chang Cheh film, but Chang Cheh wisely cast the newcomer in the role of the fresh-faced guy looking for his big break. With an actual fresh face in the role, we’re sucked into the story all the more and the film feels distinct and different from the previous films of Chang Cheh.

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