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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That Fiery Girl (1968)

That Fiery Girl [紅辣椒] (1968)
AKA Red Chili Pepper

Starring Cheng Pei Pei, Chan Leung, Lily Li Li-Li, Chiu Sam-Yin, Ku Feng, Fan Mei-Sheng, Ou-Yang Sha-Fei, Cheng Lui, Tang Ti, Nam Wai-Lit, Wong Ching Ho, Lau Kwan, Chin Chun, Chow Siu-Loi

Directed by Yen Chun

Expectations: Moderate. Hopefully it’s not another boring early Shaw.


That Fiery Girl is a hard film to rate (this seems to be a general theme for the films I’m watching lately!). For most of its runtime, it’s a low-key romantic film involving a bandit group and a heroic swordsman who has infiltrated their ranks. There are moments of martial arts and action, but it’s mostly romantic melodrama. I’m not a big fan of these kinds of Shaw Brothers films, so while the story was interesting and pretty well plotted, I found myself wishing for something more.

Like an unexpected package in the mail, the final act of That Fiery Girl delivers everything I could ever ask for from an early Shaw Brothers film, in greater quantities than even I could have imagined. While Chang Cheh is no stranger to ending his films with a large-scale extended action sequence, the other Shaw directors generally don’t use the technique at this stage of the game. If they do, it usually feels forced and nothing more than a poor imitation of the real deal. That Fiery Girl‘s ending is nearly all action, and it’s surprisingly good action. The film cross-cuts between two major battles to keep the action moving and it literally never lets up until every one of the bandits is on the floor in a pool of their own blood. There are loads of great moments of blood and gore thrown into the fights, including one of the best bamboo impalings I’ve ever seen. This amazing stretch of roughly fifteen minutes makes up for every shortcoming of That Fiery Girl and ends the film in the best way possible. It’s also gratifying to watch because the film’s plot up to this point, while melodramatic and light on action, is a fun set of twists and turns for our characters to go through. The threads of the plot all come together at once in the final action sequence, adding in an added layer of enjoyment for those that stayed awake and paid attention through the film’s more boring moments.

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