Pursuit of Vengeance (1977)

Pursuit of Vengeance [明月刀雪夜殲仇] (1977)
AKA Moonlight Blade: Vengeance on a Snowy Night (literal translation of Chinese title)

Starring Ti Lung, Lau Wing, Lo Lieh, Paul Chang Chung, Derek Yee, Shih Szu, Wai Wang, Ku Kuan-Chung, Cheng Miu, Yeung Chi-Hing, Ou-Yang Sha-Fei, Norman Chu Siu-Keung, Chen Ping, Lam Fai-Wong, Fan Mei-Sheng, Wa Lun, Chan Shen, Ngaai Fei, Yue Wing, Liu Wai, Stephan Yip Tin-Hang, Keung Hon, Wong Ching-Ho, Shum Lo, Bruce Tong Yim-Chaan, Jamie Luk Kim-Ming, Mama Hung

Directed by Chor Yuen

Expectations: High. Can Chor Yuen go five for five in 1977?


I expected to enjoy Pursuit of Vengeance, but the film surprised me and outdid every expectation I had for it. In researching the previous Chor Yuen films based on Gu Long’s Little Li Flying Dagger series (The Sentimental Swordsman & The Magic Blade), I read a basic plot synopsis of the novel that Pursuit of Vengeance is based on, Bordertown Prodigal (邊城浪子, Biancheng Langzi). It mentioned that the main characters, Ye Kai (Lau Wing) and Fu Hong-Xue (Ti Lung), both had love interests, and that the events of the book are what leads Fu to becoming the disillusioned, hard-boiled swordsman we see in The Magic Blade. So naturally I expected some sort of typical romantic storyline within the dangerous Chor Yuen martial world. The film is far removed from this, though, with nary a single love interest to be found. The film definitely does not need them, but because I was expecting it to figure in somewhere along the line, I spent the film looking for the seeds of this non-existent sub-plot and wound up admiring how cleverly plotted and perfectly paced the film is without it.

Like any good wuxia, Pursuit of Vengeance is full of twists that shouldn’t be revealed in wholesale by the likes of me. The Wan Ma clan is inviting swordsmen to their school, and they refuse to take no for an answer. When Fu Hong-Xue says he will not visit, the emissary for the clan says that he will remain there in the road, waiting for Fu’s acceptance, as long as it takes. Of course, this can’t be an innocent gesture, and Fu is too savvy to agree. Ye Kai is also invited, as are others, and it becomes clear that a specific group of people are being pulled together by the Wan Ma clan. What is their purpose? Who is in pursuit of vengeance? You’ll have to watch the movie! It’s too good for me to delve any deeper into the story, suffice it to say that many things are not what they seem and it will take our heroes’ every wit and sense to survive.

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Book Review: Electric Shadows: the Secret History of Kung Fu Movies (2013)

IMG_0017Electric Shadows: the Secret History of Kung Fu Movies, Vol. 1 (2013)
by Jean Lukitsh

Published as an E-Book on August 15, 2013

fourstar


I consider myself fairly knowledgeable about martial arts films, but prior to reading Jean Lukitsh’s Electric Shadows: the Secret History of Kung Fu Movies Vol. 1, I knew absolutely nothing about the birth of Chinese cinema or how deeply embedded the martial arts genre has always been within it. There was always a part of me that imagined the early days of Chinese film were lost to the sands of time; China is not known for their film preservation, and few films from before the 1940s or ’50s seem to be available to someone as far removed from China as I am. So I was surprised and fascinated to find that this book not only contained stories from the silent era, but also included a few links to clips of some surviving films, including this rather impressive fight scene from the 1927 film Romance of the Western Chamber (which, oddly enough, is available on DVD from Netflix or Amazon in its entirety)!

Names like Ren Pengnian or Zhang Shichuan previously meant nothing to me, but the book has enlightened me to their contributions to the formation of martial arts as a genre, and to Chinese cinema overall. Some of the most interesting passages in the book even connect some of the pioneers of Chinese cinema with later greats like Sammo Hung or others. Sammo Hung is well-known as one of the multi-talented filmmakers responsible for the dominant rise of the kung fu film through the ’60s, ’70s & ’80s, but to find out that his grandmother, Chin Tsi-ang (later known as Mama Hung), was one of the genre’s first female stars was mind-blowing. I later looked into her career in more depth and found out that she continued working throughout her life, appearing in tons of classic Shaw and Golden Harvest films as an extra, and one of her final performances can be seen in Wong Kar-Wai’s In the Mood for Love.

Perhaps the biggest surprise to me was that the martial arts genre began in the silent era. I was under the impression that there were some kung fu and wuxia films sprinkled throughout Chinese film history, but that it wasn’t a fully fledged genre until the mid-’60s when the Shaws kicked off their color productions. In fact, the Shaw Brothers were merely revitalizing an already well-established genre. This becomes plainly apparent in their selection of Temple of the Red Lotus as their first color martial arts film, as it is a remake of the first martial arts smash hit, The Burning of Red Lotus Temple (1928, directed by Zhang Shichuan).

But I don’t want to go into too many specifics and ruin the book’s impact. Fans of classic martial arts films will learn much about their beloved genre in a very quick and easy read. It’s a pretty short book, too, but the amount of information and history packed into it will astound you. I’m definitely going to read it again to help absorb some of the intricacy of the who’s who aspect to the history, and I wouldn’t be surprised if other fans felt the need to do the same.

And the best part is that it’s a steal at only $2.99! If only film school was so affordable. The end of the book teases four future volumes, and since it’s already been over a year since this volume was released, hopefully Vol. 2 isn’t too far off.

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