Judgement of an Assassin (1977)

Judgement of an Assassin [決殺令] (1977)

Starring David Chiang, Chung Wah, Ching Li, Michael Chan Wai-Man, Wai Wang, Ku Feng, Wang Lai, Cheng Miu, Lau Wai-Ling, Ngaai Fei, Ku Wen-Chung, Ku Kuan-Chung, Bruce Tong Yim-Chaan, Chan Shen, Yeung Chi-Hing, Ou-Yang Sha-Fei

Directed by Sun Chung

Expectations: High. I’ve wanted to see this one for a while.


Judgement of an Assassin sees director Sun Chung re-inserting himself into the newly revitalized wuxia genre. He made one of my all-time favorite Shaw wuxias, 1972’s The Devil’s Mirror, but his filmography is devoid of wuxias up until Judgement of an Assassin. To say that I was eagerly anticipating this film is underselling it some, especially because the next year Sun went on to make The Avenging Eagle, a film I happened to catch in the theater some years ago and have been in love with ever since. Judgement of an Assassin had a lot to live up to, and it absolutely stood up to the challenge. It is a wuxia that feels unique amidst the vast Shaw catalog up to this point, and it is sort of a middle ground between the brooding darkness of Chor Yuen and the comic book sensibilities Chang Cheh brought to life in The Brave Archer. It is also a return to the general fun of early Shaw wuxias, but with all the excitement and thrills of 1977 choreography. Like previous Sun Chung films, Judgement of an Assassin has immediately endeared itself to me, and I see it becoming a favorite I’ll return to often.

Masked assassins raid the home of the Golden Axe Clan, but when the final blow is dealt to the clan leader, the assassin boldly states his name for the record. Surely, this has to be a setup, right? Who would do that? The named man is arrested for this crime and placed inside a spiked coffin designed to limit the prisoner’s movement and torture him simultaneously. He is taken to the house of Madam Fa (Wang Lai), who will preside over the grand hearing to determine his fate. The entire martial world converges on the trial, with some members utilizing the opportunity to jockey for power, while others attempt to uncover the truth of the murder on their own. Like any good wuxia, Judgement of an Assassin is filled with many colorful characters, but here the main character is actually the martial world itself. It’s a great choice to tell this particular story, though I can see some not connecting with it if you’re looking for a more conventional film.

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The Brave Archer (1977)

The Brave Archer [射鵰英雄傳] (1977)
AKA Shaolin Archers, Kung Fu Warlords

Starring Alexander Fu Sheng, Tien Niu, Phillip Kwok Chun-Fung, Ku Feng, Ku Kuan-Chung, Johnny Wang Lung-Wei, Danny Lee, Li Yi-Min, Dick Wei, Lau Wai-Ling, Bruce Tong Yim-Chaan, Chu Jing, Yue Wing, Chan Shen, Fan Mei-Sheng, Suen Shu-Pau, Tsai Hung, Lam Fai-Wong, Lo Meng, Jamie Luk Kim-Ming, Lu Feng, Chiu Chung-Hing, Chow Git, Kara Hui, Yu Hoi-Lun, Wang Ching-Liang, Stephan Yip Tin-Hang, Lee Siu-Wah

Directed by Chang Cheh

Expectations: High. I’ve wanted to see this one for a while.


Sometime during the Jin-Song wars, two heroes of the Song dynasty are living with their wives in a quiet corner of the world. They’ve sworn their newborn children to be blood brothers, and when a wandering Taoist visits, he names the boys — Yang Kang & Guo Jing — and inscribes their names onto small swords. Unfortunately, this happy opening quickly turns sour when Jin soldiers attack and kidnap Yang Kang and his mother. In the wake of the skirmish, the Weird Seven, a group of powerful martial artists, take in Guo Jing and his mother, agreeing to raise the boy as their own. The Taoist promises to monitor and train Yang Kang, and in 18 years’ time, they will all meet up to see which boy possesses the superior kung fu. It’s a great setup for the film, but don’t get too attached. It does not resolve in this film at all, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t have fun on the journey that The Brave Archer provides. This is a different sort of wuxia, unique from Chang’s previous genre-defining work or Chor Yuen’s genre-redefining films.

I’ve heard a lot about The Brave Archer over the years; everything from “It’s great” to “It’s awful,” and everything in between. I arrived to the movie with my own baggage, as well. Knowing that this was Chang Cheh’s first film back in Hong Kong after the artistic freedom he experienced in Taiwan, and that in his memoir he states, “the five years of my second spell at Shaws warrant little mention,” it’s hard not to come into The Brave Archer with the idea that Chang was frustrated with the situation and the state of the Hong Kong industry. Having been the leader of the charge in the action genre for so many years, to now be relinquishing that title to Lau Kar-Leung and Chor Yuen (and those not at Shaw like Sammo Hung, and later Yuen Woo-Ping and Jackie Chan), make it a distinct possibility that he was coerced into making a wuxia — a genre he felt was tired and had reached its pinnacle with Golden Swallow — to satisfy the fanbase revitalized by Chor Yuen’s films. I have a feeling that’s only partially true, though. Chang also talks in his memoir of his great friendship with Jin Yong, so I can imagine Chang choosing the project and feeling a personal responsibility to do the work of his friend justice.

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Clans of Intrigue (1977)

Clans of Intrigue [楚留香] (1977)

Starring Ti Lung, Yueh Hua, Li Ching, Nora Miao, Betty Pei Ti, Ling Yun, Tin Ching, Nancy Yen Nan-See, Chan Sze-Kai, Lau Wai-Ling, Chong Lee, Ku Feng, Ku Wen-Chung, Cheng Miu, Norman Chu Siu-Keung, Ku Kuan-Chung, Chan Shen, Teresa Ha Ping, Yeung Chi-Hing

Directed by Chor Yuen

Expectations: Super high.


Clans of Intrigue was Chor Yuen’s first of five films released in 1977, and if it is anything to go by, I am in for some real treats. While Clans of Intrigue isn’t the greatest action film, it’s one of the most engrossing and well-plotted wuxias I’ve seen. It’s as much of a mystery film as it is a wuxia, and as a fan of both genres this was a dream come true. I’ve always heard that Chor Yuen was an influential director in the wuxia genre, but after seeing this run of Killer Clans, The Magic Blade, The Web of Death and Clans of Intrigue, I have a newfound appreciation for him. Within these four films he laid the basic groundwork for the wuxias of the ’80s, redefining the genre beyond the precedent set earlier by King Hu and Chang Cheh. Chor Yuen is the link between the two eras, and his work is nothing short of brilliant.

Clans of Intrigue begins with a string of three mysterious murders. Someone clad in red and wearing a mask assassinates the masters of three martial arts clans by using the ultra-poison Magic Water. Meanwhile, the Thief Master Chu Liu Hsiang (Ti Lung) is hosting a meeting aboard his boat. Nan Gong Lin (Tin Ching), the head of Beggar’s Gang, and the Ingenious Monk Wu Hua (Yueh Hua) are his guests, but mid-way through their meal, another arrives. Kung Nan Yen (Nora Miao) from Palace Magic Water has come to arrest Chu for stealing the Magic Water and killing the masters. She reasons that he must be the one that did it, because only the Thief Master could have gotten inside the palace and taken the Magic Water back out with him. He assures her that he is innocent, and she gives him one month to find out who really did it, otherwise they will kill him. And just like that, the game is afoot!

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The Magic Blade (1976)

The Magic Blade [天涯明月刀] (1976)

Starring Ti Lung, Lo Lieh, Ching Li, Tang Ching, Tanny Tien Ni, Lily Li Li-Li, Fan Mei-Sheng, Ku Feng, Norman Chu Siu-Keung, Lau Wai-Ling, Cheng Miu, Chan Shen, Teresa Ha Ping, Ku Kuan-Chung, Kong Yeung, Ng Hong-Sang, Chan Sze-Kai, Wong Ching-Ho

Directed by Chor Yuen

Expectations: Very excited to finally re-visit this.


The Magic Blade is a highly regarded wuxia in the Shaw Brothers catalog, and the nearly unanimous praise led me to review the film in 2010 (two months after starting Silver Emulsion). At the time I thought it was OK, but I didn’t understand why it was so well-loved. As the weeks went on, I kept thinking about the film, and how I must have missed something. I determined that context was the thing missing from my viewpoint, so later that year I began my chronological Shaw Brothers review project to fill my head with all the context I could handle. It’s now seven years later and I have finally arrived back around to The Magic Blade. It seems most people love the film right away, but for me I definitely needed the context to truly appreciate its mastery of the wuxia form.

The Magic Blade portrays a martial world full of strife and treachery. Like Killer Clans, it focuses on the dangers of the martial life and how prepared & alert one must be to survive against others’ devious intellect. The film opens on the deserted and quiet Phoenix Town, but this peace doesn’t last long. Out of the silence comes a procession of musicians, dancers, courtesans and other servants who prepare the town square for a grand display of entertainment for their master Yen Nan Fei (Lo Lieh). The celebration is cut short when a poncho-wearing Fu Hung Hsueh (Ti Lung) ominously appears out of the shadows. The two men have an appointment and a score to settle. Midway through their fight, though, a pair of expert assassins, Wood Devil and Tree Devil, ambush them. Fu and Yen are both swordsman of considerable skill and talent, and they have been targeted by the current leader of the martial world, Master Yu. Despite their vendetta to fight to the death, Fu and Yen team up for the time being to combat their shared threat.

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Spirit of the Raped (1976)

spiritoftheraped_1Spirit of the Raped [索命] (1976)

Starring Liu Wu-Chi, Tung Lam, Wong Yu, Wong Chung, Wang Hsieh, Teresa Ha Ping, Tin Ching, Lau Wai-Ling, Chan Lap-Ban, Lam Wai-Tiu

Directed by Kuei Chih-Hung

Expectations: Kuei Chih-Hung! I hope it’s great.

threehalfstar


Spirit of the Raped couldn’t be a more perfect contrast to last week’s Shaw film, Night of the Devil Bride. The two films share a ton of broad similarities, but where Devil Bride was disappointing and unfocused, Spirit of the Raped made good on all of its promises and puts the sympathetic character front and center to heighten our emotional engagement. Not that movies can’t experiment with their object of focus, it’s just that some films need a certain something to stand on their own. In any case, Spirit of the Raped is a great film from Kuei Chih-Hung, and one that foreshadows the gooey, gross-out territory he would later explore and define in Bewitched and The Boxer’s Omen.

Liu Miao-Li (Liu Wu-Chi) and Chen Liang (Lam Wai-Tiu) are a young couple riding in the back of a minibus. They’re excited to be married soon, and Liu has just informed Chen that they’re also expecting a child! Their whole lives are ahead of them, until just a few minutes later when a trio of thugs rob the minibus. One of the criminals (Wong Chung) finds a stash of money the couple were trying to hide, so he kills Chen with a heartless blow to his neck. Unfortunately, this is only the beginning of Liu’s horrendous misfortune.

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Night of the Devil Bride (1975)

nightofthedevilbride_2Night of the Devil Bride [攝青鬼] (1975)
AKA Night of the Devil’s Bride, Devil Bride

Starring Lo Lieh, Chen Ping, Ku Feng, Ai Ti, Lam Wai-Tiu, Lau Wai-Ling, Chan Shen, Terry Lau Wai-Yue, Yeung Chi-Hing, Helen Ko, Kong Yeung, Teresa Ha Ping, Shum Lo, Wong Ching-Ho

Directed by Chang Il-Ho

Expectations: Moderate, but hopeful. I love Hong Kong horror.

twohalfstar


It’s hard not to be intrigued by a film called Night of the Devil Bride, but I should know by now that a great title does not always equal a great film. In this particular case, it equals an OK movie with untapped potential. Night of the Devil Bride was directed by Korean filmmaker Chang Il-Ho, who also made a couple of mediocre kung fu movies at the Shaw Studio (The Deadly Knives and The Thunderbolt Fist), so maybe I should’ve known better from the start. The film was originally to have been a co-directed affair between Chang Il-Ho and Shin Sang-Ok (the director behind A Thousand Year Old Fox and the lost Shaw film The Bandits), and what remains bears the marks of this. Night of the Devil Bride is not the most cohesive movie, and anytime a movie is only 75 minutes long it’s logical to suspect problems, either budgetary or otherwise.

Night of the Devil Bride begins with moments of tenderness between Shui Lien (Chen Ping) and Kao (Lo Lieh), a married couple living in a modest home outside of town. Shui Lien is afflicted with a bad case of tuberculosis, regularly losing her hair and coughing up blood. The town doctor is treating her, but she’s having a hard time recovering. Since she’s homebound, the film follows Kao as he ventures around town trying to raise funds to support them. But it’s quickly apparent that Kao is not the tender husband he first appears to be, and that in fact he’s willing to do most anything — good or evil — to better his place in life.

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Supermen Against the Orient (1974)

supermenagainsttheorient_1Supermen Against the Orient [Crash! Che botte… strippo strappo stroppio, 四王一后] (1974)
AKA Three Supermen Vs The Orient, Three Fantastic Supermen in the Orient

Starring Robert Malcolm, Antonio Cantafora, Salvatore Borghese, Lo Lieh, Shih Szu, Tung Lam, Alberto Farnese, Jacques Dufilho, Isabella Biagini, Kong Ling, Lau Wai-Ling, Yeung Chi-Hing, Chan Ho

Directed by Bitto Albertini (with an uncredited assist from Kuei Chi-Hung)

Expectations: Super low.

onestar


No one expects to like every movie they watch, but I generally enjoy most Shaw Brothers films, even the ones that don’t really capture me. I have enough affection for the studio, its stars, and its production style to get me through a boring film. For better or worse, that’s how it is. So it’s surprising when I run into one that I pretty much hate. To be fair, there are some things that I liked about this co-production with Italy’s INDIEF, but overall Supermen Against the Orient has to be one of the worst Shaw films I’ve seen. At least it’s only barely a Shaw Brothers movie, which is partly why it didn’t play well for me.

In 1967, Gianfranco Parolini directed The Three Fantastic Supermen, and it was so popular that it spawned an entire franchise. I’ve heard of them, but this is the first I’ve seen. From what I can tell, it’s a loose series, swapping out characters and actors regularly, but there is a core framework that remains constant. Similar to James Bond, our main character is an FBI Agent who is sent to far-off exotic locales to thwart some kind of devious behavior. Along the way he teams up with a pair of well-meaning thieves who possess bulletproof super suits, and together they all save the day from the bad guys. This vague description of the formula can also serve as a plot description for Supermen Against the Orient, since none of the specifics about the villains or what they’re doing actually matter. There’s a drug deal and some kidnapped people, but I couldn’t tell you much else about why everything was happening.

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