The Fate of Lee Khan (1973)

The Fate of Lee Khan [迎春閣之風波] (1973)
fateofleekhan_2

Starring Li Li-Hua, Pai Ying, Tien Feng, Han Ying-Chieh, Hsu Feng, Roy Chiao, Angela Mao, Helen Ma Hoi-Lun, Wei Pin-Ao, Wu Chia-Hsiang, Ng Ming-Choi, Lee Man-Tai, Chiang Nan, Woo Gam, Gam Dai

Directed by King Hu

Expectations: Super high. I’ve been very eager to continue exploring King Hu’s filmography for a while now.

threehalfstar


The Fate of Lee Khan is a fantastic film, hidden in the shadows of other, more well-known King Hu films. I’ve never heard anything about this movie, but yet it is an incredibly solid and effective piece of filmed martial intrigue. It’s similar in a lot of ways to Dragon Inn, but that is hardly a complaint. It is a true joy to watch as a world-class director returns to a smaller scale story after opening up the genre in ways previously unknown in A Touch of Zen. I need to re-watch Dragon Inn to confirm this, but it seems as if King Hu’s storytelling ability has matured a lot since that film, and the economy with which he delivers an intense, compelling story in The Fate of Lee Khan is a masterful achievement. The inn featured here is also a vibrant center of the region, as opposed to the desolate way station of Dragon Inn.

The film opens by setting itself in the context of history. Our story is set in the late 1300s, during the Yuan Dynasty established by the Mongolian leader Kublai Khan. The Chinese people, frustrated with political corruption and oppression, organized a revolt under the lead of Chu Yuan-Chang. But as we’re told in the intro, the war is not just fought on the battlefields, but also through the devious methods of espionage. Lee Khan is a powerful man in charge of the Yuan spy activity, and at the outset of the film his sister and trusted advisor manage to secure a war map detailing the movements of Chu’s forces. The rebel spies refuse to let the map go easily, so when word comes that Lee Khan is coming to the Spring Inn, forces from both sides gather there to decide his fate.

Continue reading The Fate of Lee Khan (1973) →

Deaf and Mute Heroine (1971)

Deaf and Mute Heroine [聾啞劍] (1971)

Starring Helen Ma Hoi-Lun, Tang Ching, Shirley Wong Sa-Lee, Wu Ma, Lee Ying, Paul Wei Ping-Ao, Yeung Wai, Tang Ti, Hao Li-Jen

Directed by Wu Ma

Expectations: Moderate.

threehalfstar


Deaf and Mute Heroine is exactly the type of movie I hope for when I delve deep into the obscure and forgotten films of the past. Not only is it an entertaining film, it delivers one of the best wuxia finales of the era. The last 15 or so minutes are non-stop, and stuffed full of incredible, impressive wuxia filmmaking. It all feels so ahead of its time too, at least in terms of the amount of wuxia fantasy that is attempted and realized on-screen.

The film opens with a fight, as the Deaf Mute Heroine defeats a set of bandits and steals their booty of 300 pearls. These pearls set in motion the villains’ desire to hunt down and kill the Deaf Mute Heroine, as well as the other components of the story. But don’t be fooled into thinking that Deaf and Mute Heroine has an actual story! We’re supposed to be content with just knowing that the Deaf Mute Heroine is a force of good in the world, working to thwart these evildoers by stealing their pearls. Anything else, including any backstory on the main character, is to be supplied by your imagination.

Continue reading Deaf and Mute Heroine (1971) →

The Secret of the Dirk (1970)

The Secret of the Dirk [大羅劍俠] (1970)

Starring Ching Li, Chang Yi, Helen Ma Hoi-Lun, Tien Feng, Shu Pei-Pei, Wang Hsieh, Cliff Lok Kam Tung, Wong Ching Ho, Chiu Hung, Fang Mian, Goo Man-Chung

Directed by Hsu Cheng Hung

Expectations: Low.


Hsu Cheng Hung apparently got with the program and finally delivered a compelling martial arts film! Throughout this series I’ve seen a number of his films (all of them up to this point, in fact), and just about every time I’ve been disappointed. As the genre slowly shifted focus from costume drama to action film, Hsu Cheng Hung films were generally throwbacks to the way martial arts films started, with songs and a general lack of excitement. He’s had a few moderately enjoyable movies, but The Secret of the Dirk is hands down the best film I’ve seen from him. It gives me hope that the films to follow will continue this forward momentum. If nothing else, I won’t start his next film with a resigned sigh and an, “OK, let’s get this over with” attitude.

I’m not going to break down the story beats here, because, like almost all wuxia films, it’s a needlessly complicated section of a larger narrative. The only things you really need to know is that 20 years ago some treasure was hidden and now the Black Tiger bandits want to find it. The people it rightfully belongs to are also on the hunt for it, as those who knew where it was are out of commission. This makes it sound like a true adventure film, which it isn’t, but that’s the basic narrative drive of the story. The storytelling gets a bit muddled during the first half because so many characters are thrown at you with little explanation, and I had a hard time keeping track of everyone. I thought one girl was a different character for about half the movie, and then when I figured out that she wasn’t, it also became clear that it didn’t matter.

Continue reading The Secret of the Dirk (1970) →

Heads for Sale (1970)

Heads for Sale [女俠賣人頭] (1970)

Starring Lisa Chiao Chiao, Chan Leung, Wang Hsieh, Helen Ma Hoi-Lun, Chen Yan-Yan, Fan Mei-Sheng, Cheng Miu, Cheng Lui, Chan Sing, Tung Li, Chai No, Hung Lau, Poon Oi-Lun, Yip Bo-Kam

Directed by Cheng Chang Ho

Expectations: Low, despite a great title.


Heads for Sale opens with a song. This is not generally a good sign, and it immediately made me think this would be a throwback film to the early days of the genre when it was all pageantry and colorful music numbers. Thankfully, this is not the case, but the film suffers horribly from disorganized storytelling and a cast of characters so large and broad that it becomes tedious to keep up with everyone. Just when you think they’ve thrown everything they can at you, Heads for Sale introduces four new villains about 12 minutes before the film ends. And these aren’t villains that the film has been alluding to throughout like ominous string-pullers lurking in the dark, they’re just four brothers looking for vengeance on two of their brothers killed earlier in the film. It’s never clear who their brothers are either, but I’m going to assume they were the two guys beheaded about halfway through the movie. So yeah, the storytelling isn’t as strong as it could be.

In any case, the story begins with Hua Bilian (Lisa Chiao Chiao) waiting patiently for word that Luo Hongxun (Chan Leung) will accept her hand in marriage. The thing is: Hua’s father has a bad reputation as a bandit, so no one wishes to marry Hua. When an emissary arrives with the bad news, Hua flips out, suits up and heads over to Luo’s home to settle the score. A woman scorned, and all that. What she’s not aware of is that Luo actually cares deeply for her, it’s his mother that said no and sent the emissary away empty-handed. Cue some misunderstandings, followed by a bunch of fights and you’ve pretty much got an idea of what Heads for Sale is all about.

Continue reading Heads for Sale (1970) →

The Silver Fox (1968)

The Silver Fox [玉面飛狐] (1968)

Starring Lily Ho Li Li, Chang Yi, Tien Feng, Wong Chung-Shun, Yue Wai, Helen Ma Hoi-Lun, Chiu Sam-Yin, Chiu Hung, Ma Ying, Lee Ho, Fan Mei-Sheng, Hung Lau, Goo Man-Chung, Wong Ching Ho, Lee Wan Chung

Directed by Hsu Cheng Hung

Expectations: Low, Hsu Cheng Hung seems unwilling so far to try much else other than the Chinese opera melodramas that I’m not to fond of.


The Silver Fox is a film that showcases the shifting nature of the Shaw Studio in early 1968. Directed by the less than exciting Hsu Cheng Hung, who made Temple of the Red Lotus & King Cat among others reviewed here, The Silver Fox is equal parts old school Chinese melodrama and new school Chang Cheh style vengeful violence. What keeps it from being a bad (as in bad) kung-fu movie is its wonderful story of betrayal and deceit, but what keeps it from being a bad (as in good) movie is its lackluster middle section that focuses on budding romance and the conflicted melodramatic feelings of the main characters.

The film opens with a stunning sequence involving the brotherly betrayal of Wong Chung-Shun and Tien Feng, as Wong steals two secret kung-fu manuals and then blames the theft on Tien Feng. Tien’s kung-fu is crippled by their master and then Wong throws poison darts into his face, disfiguring him for life and sowing the seeds of revenge. This is something of a different role for Tien Feng, playing a young martial student, but he does a great job with it and looks the part. Many years pass and now the Silver Fox is on the loose, trying to steal a gold plaque from the Jun Wai Security Bureau headed by the evil Wong.

Continue reading The Silver Fox (1968) →

Mini-Review: The Cave of Silken Web (1967)

The Cave of Silken Web [盤絲洞] (1967)

Starring Chow Lung-Cheung, Ho Fan, Pang Pang, Tin Sam, Angela Yu Chien, Lau Leung Wa, Shen Yi, Helen Ma Hoi-Lun, Shirley Wong Qui-Lee, Tin Mung, Yau Ching, Shum Lo, Tang Ti

Directed by Ho Meng-Hua

Expectations: Moderate. The last one wasn’t as good as the first.


Third in the Shaw Brother’s series of four films based upon the classical Chinese novel Journey to the West, The Cave of Silken Web is a definite step up from the previous sequel Princess Iron Fan. The focus is tightened here to one story for the entire film and it serves the arc of the story and the film better than the episodic format that the earlier films had. With only one story to focus on, director Ho Meng-Hua and his wonderful group of actors can really settle into their roles and have a great time. Not to mention that the villains here have real weight and pursue our heroes relentlessly. Chow Lung-Cheung takes over the role of the Monkey King for this film, and while he’s not quite as emotive or charismatic as Yuen Hua was, it’s pretty seamless and most viewers probably won’t even notice the difference.

The Cave of Silken Web starts off like any other story from the series, with the monk Tang and his band of protectors riding West in search of Buddhist scriptures. While looking for a place to stay for the night, they are tricked into the evil plans of the seven spider-demon sisters of the Cave of the Silken Web! They are quite devious and before you know it, Tang is turned into mist and captured in a vase and all seems to be lost. Of course nothing is yet written in stone, as the Monkey King, Pigsy and Sandy are all diligent followers of Tang and fight tirelessly to free their master.

The first half of the film is something of a rehash of most of the previous stories, but the film really hits its stride come the second half. The action moves completely within the cave and it’s a non-stop ride to the finale with all kinds of mistaken identity and hijinks that only the Monkey King can provide. Everything else takes a backseat to the last couple of minutes though when Sandy’s acquisition of the deadly Seven Flames is unleashed. The Seven Flames is the only thing capable of counteracting the seven sisters’ spider webs and it’s basically just a flamethrower disguised as a large jug. Watch as Sandy and the Monkey King lay waste to all kinds of shit with a flamethrower! I defy you to not be entertained by that! This is the first flamethrower I’ve seen in a Shaw Brothers film, and I sure hope it isn’t the last. This isn’t the type of movie I’d expect a flamethrower to pop up, but I ain’t complaining!

And if nothing else, The Cave of Silken Web teaches one very important lesson. No matter how powerful or supernatural you are (or think you are), a big rock to the back of the head is always capable of knocking you out. So watch your backs and give this one a shot. It’s not necessary to see the preceding films first, but it will help quite a bit and I recommend it.

Mini-Review: King Cat (1967)

King Cat [七俠五義] (1967)

Starring Chang Yi, Kiu Chong, Pat Ting Hung, Lo Lieh, Carrie Ku Mei, Cheng Miu, Fang Mian, Yeung Chi Hing, Goo Man-Chung, Wong Chung-Shun, Ngai Ping-Ngo, Fan Mei-Sheng, Lee Wan Chung, Tung Choi-Bo, Ching Li, Chin Feng, Helen Ma Hoi-Lun

Directed by Hsu Cheng Hung

Expectations: Low. Hsu Cheng Hung has burned me too many times.


King Cat is another of Hsu Cheng Hung’s opera action films and is probably the worst of the ones I’ve seen yet. It’s not that it’s poorly made or acted, it’s just boring. Mostly filled with scenes of talking officials and their swordsman bodyguards, King Cat should have been the fun assassin vs. assassin tale the script wanted it to be, instead of the slow-moving and tedious film it is. This is the type of movie I would gladly see remade if in the hand’s of a skilled team, because at its heart, it has good potential. You could probably say something similar about most of these really early Shaw Brothers films, but it is especially apparent on King Cat.

Chang Yi plays the King Cat, dubbed this by the Emperor after heroically saving the Empress from assassination. The guy deserved the title because in order to save her he caught an arrow mid-flight, leapt across an insane distance to thwart the assassin, and when some evil accomplices pushed the Empress off a balcony, he jumped to the street below to catch her as she fell. And what rescue like that would be complete without sideways wall-walking the saved girl back up to the balcony? King Cat is an understatement of how awesome this guy is. The problem is that after this awesome and daring sequence, the film languishes about as Kiu Chong, the Brocaded Mouse, attempts to sabotage the King Cat’s reputation because he feels threatened by Chang Yi’s new title. Y’see, Chong and his brothers make up the famous Five Mice of Xiankong Island and they don’t like cats poking their noses into their affairs. If nothing else, this film does offer up some great wuxia names!

The last half hour picks up a bit with a good, but much too short fight between Kiu Chong and Chang Yi, culminating in a wonderful set of traps. It wouldn’t be a Hsu Cheng Hung film without a bunch of traps! The final battle continues to feature various fun traps, and more of the extremely floaty wirework on display throughout the film. Each floaty jump is accompanied by a fluttering sound effect, which is fun the first few times, but thirty jumps later, it’s not quite the same. If you’re looking for a fun action movie, look elsewhere. King Cat has its moments, but they are very few and far between.

Subscribe via Email!

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 1,593 other subscribers

Ongoing Series

Top Posts & Pages

Stephen's Reviews
Will's Reviews
The Silver Fox (1968)
Shaw Brothers Martial Arts Films
Men from the Monastery (1974)
7-Man Army (1976)
Magic Island (1995)
Cinderella (1977)