Dragon Inn (1967)

dragoninn_8Dragon Inn (1967)
AKA Dragon Gate Inn

Starring Shih Jun, Pai Ying, Polly Kuan, Miao Tian, Sit Hon, Cho Kin, Go Ming, Got Siu-Bo, Ko Fei, Tien Peng, Han Ying-Chieh, Man Chung-San

Directed by King Hu

Expectations: High, this is one of the most influential early martial arts films.

fourstar


When it comes to martial arts films, 1967 was a huge, formative year. The first mega-hit of the genre, The One-Armed Swordsman, made Jimmy Wang Yu a star and cemented director Chang Cheh as the genre’s leading visionary. Just a few months after the release of that film, director King Hu, having recently left the Shaw Brothers after creative differences on Come Drink With Me, unleashed Dragon Inn. As an independent film out of Taiwan it may not have had the budget or the clout of the Shaw Brothers studio behind it, but Dragon Inn is arguably more well-known than almost all the 1960s martial arts films from the Shaw studio. I knew all this going into Dragon Inn, and even with an incredible amount of historical hype behind it, Dragon Inn wowed me with its cinematic artistry and an ahead-of-its-time ability to craft thrilling martial arts sequences through editing.

The story of Dragon Inn is a well-known one, but that doesn’t impede the film’s ability to enthrall. The government is corrupt and controlled by devious eunuchs, and our story begins as Zhao Shao Qin, a eunuch with unparalleled power, orders the execution of General Yu, a good man who was framed. Yu’s family is sent to the remote outpost of Dragon Gate, where Zhao has plans to murder them far from the watchful eyes of civilization. He sends a delegation of his most powerful soldiers to await the family’s arrival at the inn, but thankfully there’s a few people at Dragon Gate still loyal to General Yu and his resilient spirit.

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Pursuit (1972)

pursuit_4Pursuit [林沖夜奔] (1972)

Starring Yueh Hua, Wong Gam-Fung, Fan Mei-Sheng, Paul Chun Pui, Go Ming, Yeung Chi-Hing, Wong Chung-Shun, Chiu Hung, Lee Siu-Chung, Tong Jing, Shum Lo, Mang Hoi

Directed by Cheng Kang

Expectations: High.

fourstar


Pursuit is a prequel of sorts to Chang Cheh’s The Water Margin, focused specifically on telling the story of Yueh Hua’s character, Lin Chong AKA Panther Head. Connecting your film to one of the greatest Chinese films of all-time is a tall order, but thankfully we have the talented, resolute hands of Cheng Kang guiding Pursuit. The film is supreme entertainment from start to finish, although the focus is more on heartbreaking drama than traditional Shaw Brothers action (though there is a good amount of that too).

Like many martial arts stories, a strong thread of brotherhood runs through Pursuit, but the main theme here is trust. The film opens many years before the events of The Water Margin, as Lin Chong returns home and happily greets his wife. He is a respected instructor for the Imperial guard, and everything in his life is seemingly perfect. Lin Chong accompanies his wife to the temple and runs into an old friend, Lu Zhishen AKA Flowery Monk (Fan Mei-Sheng). At this moment, Lin Chong decides that brotherhood is more important than escorting his wife, so he trusts that she will be fine while he shares a few drinks and stories with Lu Zhishen (who also appears in The Water Margin, portrayed by Pang Pang). Lin Chong’s trust in the good of man is misplaced, though, as he returns to the temple to find the son of the Imperial Commander, Gao Yanei, attempting to rape his wife. He stops Gao, but this also sets into motion the ruination of Lin Chong’s life as he knows it.

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The Mighty One (1971)

mightyone_1The Mighty One [童子功] (1971)

Starring Ivy Ling Po, Liu Ping, Ling Yun, Go Ming, Lung Fei, Hsieh Hsing, Cheung Yee-Kwai, Shaw Luo-Hui, Yuen Sam, Chan Yau-San, So Gam-Lung, Wa Luen

Directed by Joseph Kuo Nan-Hong

Expectations: Moderate.

threestar


The Mighty One kicks off with a bang as a group of devious villains stride up to a pleasant, peaceful homestead. They are the Notorious Five of the Dragon Valley, led by the red-faced Brother Fang, and they seek the missing pages of The Mighty Creed (AKA The Mighty Power of Five Masters). But the aged, retired swordsman who lives at the home refuses to give up the manual’s location, so Brother Fang kills him while the Notorious Five playfully beat up the old man’s children, throwing one into a tree and pinning another to the floor with a dagger.

The basic framework of this scene continues on through the rest of The Mighty One, as the Notorious Five go around the countryside asking about the manual and kicking ass when no one has any answers. Enter Water Knight Hsiang Kuei (Ling Yun) and Hsiao Chu (Ivy Ling Po), the only two to give the Notorious Five and Brother Fang a challenging fight. No one knows who these two are or where they came from, which means they’ve never seen a Shaw Brothers film, as anyone who has will immediately know exactly who these two are. While their identities are obscured throughout most of the movie, I don’t think it was the filmmaker’s intent for it to be a big twist, as it’s not revealed as such.

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The Shadow Whip (1971)

Ying-zi-shen-bian_f4c81832The Shadow Whip [影子神鞭] (1971)

Starring Cheng Pei Pei, Yueh Hua, Tien Feng, Ku Feng, Lee Kwan, Wang Hsieh, Lee Sau Kei, Lo Wei, Go Ming, Lee Ka-Ting, Hao Li-Jen, Tsang Choh-Lam

Directed by Lo Wei

Expectations: Moderately high.

threestar


It was with a heavy heart that I sat down to watch Lo Wei’s The Shadow Whip, as this was the final Shaw Brothers martial arts film starring Cheng Pei Pei. Cheng was one of the genre’s first breakout stars, kick-starting the 1960s martial arts film revolution in King Hu’s Come Drink With Me. Her stoic portrayal of Golden Swallow in that film earned her a plethora of quality film roles at the Shaw studio, so The Shadow Whip truly marks the end of an era. The Shadow Whip‘s contemporaries were inching towards the types of films that would fill the company’s future, but this feels like a film rooted in the past (as is to be expected from Lo Wei). No matter the emotions that surrounded this viewing of The Shadow Whip, it’s a fun film, chock full of fights and intrigue.

The Shadow Whip opens on snowy vistas — a rare occurrence in a Shaw film — and they’re stunning. We zero in on a small caravan, traversing the road to town in search of spices and supplies for their inn. A man on a wagon sings us this journey’s tale, lending the film a light tone. This is shattered when a group of three men on horseback (known in the film’s martial world as “The Serial Trio”) ride through the caravan and attack the singing man for being in their way. Later, when everyone arrives in town, the caravan leader wants revenge, but the Serial Trio has met up with a handsome swordsman played by Yueh Hua, and the intrigue has already begun to take shape.

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Six Assassins (1971)

SixAssassins+1971-1-bSix Assassins [六刺客] (1971)

Starring Ling Yun, Ha Faan, James Nam Gung-Fan, Go Ming, Lily Li Li-Li, Siu Wa, Tong Tin-Hei, Chai No, Cheung Ging-Boh, Yau Lung, Yun Il-Bong, Chan Shen, Hung Sing-Chung, Suen Lam, Chen Feng-Chen, Fang Mian

Directed by Cheng Chang Ho

Expectations: Moderate. Cheng Chang Ho’s last movie was pretty fun.

threestar


Before I start watching one of these Shaw films that I know nothing about, I will usually watch a few seconds here and there throughout the movie to give myself an idea of what I’m about to sit through. It might seem like an odd practice, but I’ve found that doing this allows me to get a handle on my expectations, allowing me to take in the film without the high hopes that the fun titles might inspire. For Six Assassins it worked beautifully, because when I did this I saw deep, saturated colors and a lot of grand sets and costumes. This instantly reminded me of the Shaw Brothers films from the 1960s, and my expectations for the film plummeted. So when I watched the movie and I found out that it was actually really fun and not like those movies at all, I was even more enthusiastic about watching it than I would’ve been normally.

Six Assassins takes a little while to get going, as it throws a lot of dense storytelling at you immediately after the opening credits. But it boils down to this: the emperor’s brother is a royal asshole. He kills the lord of a peaceful part of the country, hoping to annex the lands and thus control the people who live there. But those people don’t take too kindly to that, so they enlist the help of the famed swordsman Mu Jun-Jie (Ling Yun). Mu drafts a small group of assassins to help him in his goal, and thus the tale of Six Assassins takes its shape.

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The Iron Buddha (1970)

The Iron Buddha [鐵羅漢] (1970)

Starring Ling Yun, Fang Ying, Wong Chung-Shun, Chen Hung Lieh, Yau Ching, Yue Wai, Fan Mei-Sheng, Fang Mian, Goo Man-Chung, Yen Chun, Lee Sau Kei, Go Ming, Shum Lo

Directed by Yen Chun

Expectations: High. Sammo Hung choreography is generally fastastic.


It’s always fun when I discover a more “modern” martial arts film amidst the old school wuxia. It wouldn’t be fair to call this anything but a wuxia film, but its sensibilities are definitely progressive rather than regressive, and that’s always a good thing when it comes to this review series. The Iron Buddha isn’t a great film, or even a genre great, but it is remarkably fun, high-class entertainment that will satisfy those looking for a great diversion from your normal, not-flying-around-and-jumping-fifty-feet-into-trees life.

The Iron Buddha starts off uniquely as the rapist Xiao Tianzun (Wong Chung-Shun) is caught red-handed, but let free by a merciful martial arts master who is familiar with the reputation of the rapist’s teacher. He does not leave the rapist unscathed, though, carving a deep cross on his chest to mark him as an evildoer. Three years later, Xiao tracks down the man who gave him the scar, rapes his daughter while he watches and then kills him! Without missing a beat, he then murders the man’s entire school of students, save one rather resourceful guy who happened to be away from the group. This student becomes our main character, Luo Han (Ling Yun), and he’s out for some serious revenge! Now that’s a classic kung fu setup if I’ve ever heard one!

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The Twelve Gold Medallions (1970)

The Twelve Gold Medallions [十二金牌] (1970)
AKA Twelve Golden Medallions

Starring Yueh Hua, Chin Ping, Cheng Miu, Lisa Chiao Chiao, Wang Hsieh, Wong Chung-Shun, Yeung Chi Hing, Ku Feng, Liu Wai, Goo Man-Chung, Jeng Man-Jing, Fan Mei-Sheng, Tong Tin-Hei, Ma Ying, Go Ming

Directed by Cheng Kang

Expectations: High. Cheng Kang returns!


The Twelve Gold Medallions was Cheng Kang’s first feature since the wonderful Killers Five, so I went in hoping that it would live up to the pure, unfiltered awesome laid out there. While The Twelve Gold Medallions definitely doesn’t live up to that kind of hype, it’s a really incredible wuxia film that is sure to delight and excite fans of the genre. It starts out with a bang too, immediately dropping us into the action as Yueh Hua is doing his best to stop the messengers carrying the twelve gold medallions of the title.

The film opens with some text, hoping to frame the events of the film within some sort of historical context. The twelve gold medallions are the ploy of an evil traitor, hoping to thwart the plans of a patriotic general doing his best to preserve the current Emperor’s reign. Yueh Hua, a noble swordsman, takes up the task of stopping these messengers and their false messages. Beyond that, there’s also a romantic sub-plot between Yueh Hua and Chin Ping, the daughter of his master, as well as some drama between Yueh and his master (Cheng Miu) over the fact that Cheng has become the leader of the villainous group trying to deliver the medallions.

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