Death Duel (1977)

Death Duel [三少爺的劍] (1977)

Starring Derek Yee, Ling Yun, Candice Yu On-On, Ku Feng, Ou-Yang Sha-Fei, Chen Ping, David Chiang, Norman Chu Siu-Keung, Ku Kuan-Chung, Ngaai Fei, Gam Lau, Fan Mei-Sheng, Teresa Ha Ping, Yeung Chi-Hing, Lam Fai-Wong, Liu Wai, Cheng Miu, Shum Lo, Yueh Hua, Ti Lung, Lo Lieh, Nancy Yen Nan-See, Johnny Wang Lung-Wei, Chan Shen, Yuen Wah

Directed by Chor Yuen

Expectations: High. I like these Chor Yuen wuxias.


I’m not exactly sure what I expected going into Death Duel, but I felt off-kilter throughout most of the movie. I assumed it would be another in the lineup of great Chor Yuen adaptations from Gu Long novels, but I found it to be a somewhat poorly structured tale, and the character cameos from Chor’s previous films really threw me off. I’m not sure my experience is entirely the movie’s fault, though, as Death Duel is never boring or anything other than completely entertaining and fun; it all just felt sort of odd. I have a sneaking suspicion that like The Magic Blade, I’ll eventually re-watch the movie, love it, and wonder what I was thinking when I wrote this. In any case, Death Duel is both a great Chor Yuen film that delivers similar thrills to his previous mid-’70s wuxias, and a film in need of some focus.

Death Duel starts stunningly, though. Based on a relatively new story — serialized from June 1975 to March 1976, sharing the film’s Chinese title 三少爺的劍 (which translates to Sword of the Third Young Master) — the tale begins with Yen Shih-San (Ling Yun), as he arrives in a copse of trees at sunset. He’s called a meeting of elite swordsmen to test his martial skills, challenging the entire group at once and boasting that he will kill them all within 13 sword strikes. With this completed, only one man stands in Yen’s way to the top of the martial world: The 3rd Master, also known as the God of Swords. The 3rd Master is said to have an invincible sword technique, and Yen hopes to test his own invincible technique against it in a bid for the spot at the top of the ever-moving, tumultuous martial world. But when Yen tracks down the 3rd Master, he only finds his coffin. For all intents and purposes, Yen is now the greatest swordsman alive, but without challenging the reigning champion, what is this by-default glory worth?

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Jade Tiger (1977)

Jade Tiger [白玉老虎] (1977)

Starring Ti Lung, Yueh Hua, Ku Feng, Lily Li Li-Li, Fan Mei-Sheng, Lo Lieh, Derek Yee, Shih Szu, Chiang Nan, Hsiao Yao, Ng Hong-Sang, Shut Chung-Tin, Yeung Chi-Hing, Shum Lo, Ngaai Fei, Ku Kuan-Chung, Chan Shen, Johnny Wang Lung-Wei, Wang Hsieh, Norman Chu Siu-Keung, Cheng Miu, Fanny Leung Maan-Yee

Directed by Chor Yuen

Expectations: Pretty high.


For Chor Yuen’s second film of 1977, he once again returned to the fertile literary work of Gu Long. The film adapts a standalone novel of the same Chinese title, 白玉老虎, often translated as The White Jade Tiger. Where this film differs is that Gu Long himself co-wrote the screenplay, and while he wrote nearly 30 movies in his career, this was his only direct collaboration with Chor Yuen. Jade Tiger was Chor’s favorite of his Gu Long adaptations, citing its focus on sacrifice and how it shapes the lead character, Zhao Wuji (Ti Lung), over the course of the film. Perhaps the clear, emotional resonance of the themes is a product of this collaboration; who better knows the ins and outs of a work than its author? Whatever the case may have been, Jade Tiger is a largely successful film that is sure to please fans of wuxia cinema.

It is Zhao Wuji’s wedding day, but instead of getting ready for the occasion, he’s on a rocky outcropping dueling Dugu Sheng (Norman Chu). Dugu offers to fight on another day so that Zhao won’t risk dying on his wedding day, but Zhao would rather die a bachelor and leave no troubled widow behind. Zhao also respects the rules of the martial world implicitly, so honoring the fight was never a choice, but it is these deeply held tenets that will ultimately challenge Zhao to the most difficult struggle of his life. The Tang clan has always been at odds with the Zhao’s, and when they do not receive an invitation to Wuji’s wedding, they don’t take it as a simple slight. This act of disrespect is a catalyst to the film’s tumultuous plot, bringing the long-simmering Zhao/Tang fued to its boiling point.

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Executioners from Shaolin (1977)

Executioners from Shaolin [洪熙官] (1977)
AKA Hung Hsi-Kuan, The Executioners of Death, Shaolin Executioners

Starring Chen Kuan-Tai, Lily Li Li-Li, Lo Lieh, Wong Yu, Dave Wong Kit, Cheng Kang-Yeh, Shum Lo, Gordon Liu Chia-Hui, Lee Hoi-Sang, Tin Ching, Chiang Tao, John Cheung Ng-Long, Lee Chiu

Directed by Lau Kar-Leung

Expectations: Super high.


Shaolin Temple marked the end of Chang Cheh’s Shaolin Cycle, but hot on its heels a couple of months later came the first Shaolin film from Lau Kar-Leung: Executioners from Shaolin. Lau is fundamentally a different style of director than Chang, and this film is a perfect example of this. Chen Kuan-Tai reprises the role of Hung Hsi-Kuan, but Lau builds the character in ways that Chang never did. Executioners from Shaolin begins similarly to Chang’s Heroes Two (with Hung’s escape from the burning Shaolin temple), but it is not a tale of survival and hiding out from Qing government officials. Executioners from Shaolin has a bigger goal in mind, broadening its focus out to illustrate the evolution of Hung Gar and the importance of its lineage. Lau Kar-Leung was a member of this lineage himself, so his genuine appreciation and love for it really pops off the screen. Shaolin filmmaking at the Shaw studio began with Hung Gar under the influence of Lau, so it’s fitting that he would begin there as well.

The martial lineage of Hung Gar is the overall focus of Executioners from Shaolin, but it is framed around a basic revenge-driven story that any kung fu fan has seen a million times. It’s presented differently here, but regardless it still boils down to “You killed my master, now I kill you.” Shaolin Master Zhi Shan (Lee Hoi-Sang) is defeated by Pai Mei (Lo Lieh) during the film’s opening credits, setting the stage for a quest of revenge. Hung Hsi-Kuan & his remaining Shaolin brethren would like to strike while their emotional wounds are fresh and the wood of Shaolin still smokes, but after confronting some Qing resistance it becomes clear that regrouping and strengthening their position is their only viable option. The students find refuge in the Red Boat opera troupes who travel the country by sea, leading Hung to meet the beautiful and martially adept Fang Yung Chun (Lily Li), and this is where the heart of Executioners from Shaolin can be found.

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The Web of Death (1976)

The Web of Death [五毒天羅] (1976)

Starring Yueh Hua, Lo Lieh, Ching Li, Wang Hsieh, Angela Yu Chien, Wong Chung, Lily Li Li-Li, Cheng Miu, Ku Feng, Kong Yeung, Norman Chu Siu-Keung, Chan Shen, Chan Mei-Hua

Directed by Chor Yuen

Expectations: Excited to see another Chor Yuen movie.


Chor Yuen re-defined the wuxia film genre with Killer Clans and The Magic Blade, but The Web of Death is more of a step in a different direction. Elements introduced in the previous films (like the focus on survival and the true danger of the martial world) are still present and relevant in The Web of Death, but they are no longer the primary focus. In The Web of Death, Chor Yuen goes full-on fantasy, delivering a tale of magical powers and deadly clan rivalries that could only come out of ’70s Hong Kong. If the previous films were about avoiding subtle tricks like a poisoned drink, The Web of Death is about more overt threats such as a trapdoor that opens into an acid bath. This move towards fantasy is significant, though, as Shaw’s prior wuxia films always contained elements of fantasy but were never all-out extravaganzas. In this way, The Web of Death is like a bridge between the early days of trap-laden, studio-bound wuxias and the fantasy heights the genre attained in the ’80s and ’90s. As a huge fan of those later offerings, I can’t help but love The Web of Death just a little bit more for pushing the genre in that direction.

The Five Venoms Clan is in possession of the most fearsome weapon in the martial world: the Five Venoms Spider. It may look like nothing more than a smoking lantern adorned with a red spider handle on its top, but it’s actually a cage for the fearsome spider within. This spider is capable of incredible things, including deadly lasers and a poisonous mist. Nothing is known that can defeat the power of the spider, or even defend against it. If your opponent wields the spider it’s basically time to say your goodbyes, if you only had the time. The spider is so deadly that even the Five Venom Clan itself is scared of it. They lock it away in an unknown location, and there it stays until a few members of the clan want to take control of the martial world at an upcoming tournament with it. The mere idea that the spider may re-emerge in the martial world sends shock waves through the clans. Fei Ying Xiang (Yueh Hua) of Wudang — or Wu-Tang if you’d prefer — and his brother Fei Ying-Jie (Wong Chung) are dispatched by their master to learn of the spider’s whereabouts and stop its use. The brothers split up to search separately, and the twisting, dense adventure begins.

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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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The Silver Emulsion Podcast: Ep. 59 – The Thundering Sword

This week Stephen and I are rolling it back to the early days of the modern wuxia with 1967’s The Thundering Sword! Listen and enjoy! 🙂

Also: the show is now on iTunes! So if you feel like subscribing there, or rating/reviewing the show, feel free to share your thoughts!

Music Notes

Intro:

  • The Daktaris – Daktari Walk

Outro:

  • Prince – The Holy River

If you’ve got feedback, throw it into the comments below or email it to me via the contact page! We’ll include it in a future show!

The podcast is embedded directly below this, or you can go directly to Podbean (or use their app) to listen. If you want to subscribe, paste http://silveremulsion.podbean.com/feed/ into whatever reader you’re using.

The Dragon Missile (1976)

The Dragon Missile [飛龍斬] (1976)

Starring Lo Lieh, Lau Wing, Nancy Yen Nan-See, Ku Feng, Terry Lau Wai-Yue, Fan Mei-Sheng, Kong Yeung, Norman Chu Siu-Keung, Ko Hung, Wang Han-Chen, Ou-Yang Sha-Fei, Yeung Chi-Hing, Hao Li-Jen, Lai Man

Directed by Ho Meng-Hua

Expectations: Kinda high.


There are some films made for the sake of the art, while others are purely made for monetary reasons. The Dragon Missile is one of the latter, rushed into production to compete for the decapitation fan base with Jimmy Wang Yu’s One Armed Boxer vs. the Flying Guillotine (AKA Master of the Flying Guillotine). Both films opened on April 24, 1976, but only one of them is a well-loved genre classic that grossed more than all but a handful of Shaw’s 1976 films (and it ain’t The Dragon Missile 😀 ). The move to steal business from their former star may not have worked, but the resulting film is still pretty enjoyable for what it is. Even the most slapdash Shaw production is still a Shaw production, after all, and The Dragon Missile has a few solid things in its corner that make it a worthwhile film.

Lo Lieh plays Sima Jun, the Imperial Troop Leader for the oppressive Lord Qin Quan (Ku Feng). He wields one of the more unique weapons in kung fu cinema: a pair of giant “dragon missiles,” which are basically bladed boomerangs adorned with dragon heads that can cut through just about anything in their path (in a haze of sparks and lens flare). Like the flying guillotine, they have a habit of decapitating their victims, but the dragon missiles are almost more frightening because of their mobility. The guillotine must be thrown precisely and then retrieved for a second go-round, while the missiles are in constant motion. Sima Jun can also catch and throw them with remarkable speed and accuracy. Lord help us if a dude with a flying guillotine ever teamed up with a guy using dragon missiles!

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