Village of Tigers (1974)

villageoftigers_4Village of Tigers [惡虎村] (1974)

Starring Yueh Hua, Shu Pei-Pei, Karen Yip Leng-Chi, Tung Lam, Wang Hsieh, Tang Ti, Chan Shen, Ng Wai, Tung Li, Tong Tin-Hei, Chan Ho, Lan Wei-Lieh, Wan Chung-Shan

Directed by Griffin Yueh Feng & Wong Ping

Expectations: Moderate, but I generally like Griffin Yueh Feng’s work.

twohalfstar


My chronological review series of the Shaw Brothers martial arts films enters 1974 not with a bang but a whimper. Well, whimper is probably a little strong. Village of Tigers is relatively entertaining, but a 79-minute movie should never feel as long as this one does. Its problems are myriad, its intrigue is slight; it’s the kind of wuxia to see when you’ve exhausted a lot of the better options. The finale is of markedly better quality than the rest of the movie, but even this is not enough to save this rather sedate wuxia from mediocrity.

The story’s lack of focus is one of its major issues, and I could easily describe most of the movie in an attempt to provide even a quick summary. Basically, the titular Village of Tigers is the home to a huge group of bandits who like to go around and pillage. On this particular day, they’re concerned with bumping off the Sword of the Southern Sky, Luo Hong-Xun (Yueh Hua). Meanwhile, Bao Ying Hua (Karen Yip Leng-Chi) is on her way to Wild Date Peak for her grandma’s birthday party, and 9th Miss (Shu Pei-Pei), Bao’s cousin, has discovered that her brother Ba Jie (Tung Li) is in league with the bandits holed up at the Village of Tigers.

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The Golden Sword (1969)

The Golden Sword [龍門金劍] (1969)

Starring Kao Yuen, Cheng Pei Pei, Wang Lai, Kao Pao-Shu, Lo Wei, Wong Chung-Shun, Yeung Chi Hing, Alice Au Yin-Ching, Lee Pang-Fei, Goo Man-Chung, Ng Wai, Lee Kwan, Go Ming, Law Hon, Ku Feng, James Tin Jun

Directed by Lo Wei

Expectations: Optimistic. Lo Wei usually delivers something entertaining and different with his films.


I talk a lot about Chang Cheh’s prolific output of films, but Lo Wei was no slouch himself. The Golden Sword was Lo Wei’s third film released in 1969, and it is, at least for me, by far his best. Where Dragon Swamp and Raw Courage were both fun in their own ways, they feel like films that are just shy of realizing their true potential. The Golden Sword is Lo Wei finally putting all the pieces together to form a fun and vigorous wuxia film; I always knew he had it in him.

Two masked riders arrive at the Golden Sword Lodge and give the man of the house, played by Lo Wei, a small box. Upon seeing it, he gets on one of their horses and rides off into the night. Seven years and one awesome credits sequence later, the new chief of the clan is being appointed as they’ve all pretty much given up on finding Lo Wei. All except for his son, played by Kao Yuen, who decides he’ll venture out on his own to search for his lost father. Having scoured all the obvious places and local lands, Kao Yuen continues his quest in a snowy, mountainous region rarely seen in Shaw Brothers films, and here he meets Cheng Pei Pei disguised as a beggar. The fun begins here and really doesn’t let up until the standard Shaw Brothers “THE END” comes on-screen.

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Death Valley (1968)

Death Valley [斷魂谷] (1968)

Starring Yueh Hua, Angela Yu Chien, Chen Hung Lieh, Lo Wei, Wong Wai, Chiu Hung, Lee Kwan, Han Ying Chieh, Ng Wai, Cheung Hei, Wong Ching Ho, Lee Sau Kei

Directed by Lo Wei

Expectations: Moderate, I enjoyed the previous Lo Wei film I watched The Black Butterfly.


This one kind of snuck up on me. My thoughts about it kept evolving as I watched, starting at “This is OK,” then moving on to “This is pretty good,” until finally settling on “Hey, this is coming around nicely. Well done, Lo Wei!” And it’s mostly due to the well-developed, enjoyable characters that populate the film. I don’t say that very often with these Shaw Brothers movies and in the grand scheme of things the two main swordsmen characters aren’t very deep, but they are both intriguing and fun to follow around as they move through the adventure. That’s about all you can ask from a genre film character and these two guys (and a whole host of fun supporting characters) really brighten up what is otherwise a rather average movie.

At the plot level, Death Valley is another in a long string of mistaken identity films, with one righteous hero being mistook for one stone-faced bandit and vice versa. The catch here is that prior to the mistaken identity hijinks, the two characters meet and strike up a brotherly friendship. Suddenly as the two men are thrown into situations where they are thought to be the other, they learn about who the other man is and weigh this information against what they experienced firsthand. It makes the proceedings much more interesting than they have a right to be and how well it all works is a credit to the strength of Lo Wei’s storytelling abilities, both behind the camera and with the pen.

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The Magnificent Swordsman (1968)

The Magnificent Swordsman [怪侠] (1968)
AKA Vagabond Swordsman

Starring Wong Chung-Shun, Shu Pei-Pei, Tien Feng, Cheng Miu, Ngai Ping-Ngo, Fan Mei-Sheng, Ma Ying, Chiu Hung, Shum Lo, Chai No, Ng Wai, Lee Ka-Ting, Cheng Kang-Yeh, Yau Lung

Directed by Griffin Yueh Feng & Cheng Kang

Expectations: Fairly high. Griffin Yueh Feng delivered a pretty good looking film before in Rape of the Sword.


While many martial arts films are influenced by Sergio Leone’s westerns, I don’t think I’ve ever seen one as deeply indebted to the genre like The Magnificent Swordsman is. The film is a mash-up of the stories from Leone’s A Fistful of Dollars and Kurosawa’s The Seven Samurai, resulting in a more Western-leaning Chinese version of Kurosawa’s Fistful of Dollars remake Yojimbo. Jesus, I need to take a moment after deciphering that one. For the most part it works, but because everything has been done before (and better), The Magnificent Swordsman isn’t as good or exciting as it should be. Don’t get me wrong, the film is entertaining and fun to watch, but the lack of originality really hurts this one from being the film it could have been for viewers that have seen the films mentioned. On the other hand, if you haven’t seen those (and why the hell haven’t you?), then you’re likely to get a lot more out of The Magnificent Swordsman than I did.

The direction from Griffin Yueh Feng and Cheng Kang is very good, filling the frame in interesting ways and with intriguing angles. Like Yueh Feng’s previous film Rape of the Sword, it exhibits a very defined style with all the snap zooms and whip pans you’d expect from a Shaw Bros. film. The difference is that I feel Yueh Feng was one of the influential guys in creating what would become that “standard Shaw Bros shooting style” as his films feature it throughout with confidence and passion, while other Shaw films of the era merely flirt with the techniques.

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Mini-Review: Princess Iron Fan (1966)

Princess Iron Fan [鐵扇公主] (1966)

Starring Ho Fan, Yueh Hua, Pang Pang, Tin Sam, Cheng Pei Pei, Pat Ting Hung, Lily Ho Li Li, Cheng Miu, Shen Yi, Ng Wai, Lily Li Li-Li, Ku Feng, Man Sau

Directed by Ho Meng-Hua

Expectations: High, I really enjoyed the first film.


Princess Iron Fan is the second in the Shaw Brother’s four film series of Journey to the West films. It’s not nearly as episodic as the first film, this time only containing two stories, with most of the runtime dedicated to the second one. It’s interesting to me that this got titled after Princess Iron Fan, the subject of the first and much shorter tale, instead of after the film’s main villain and trickster the White Bone Demon (or the Lady White Skeleton depending on the translation) played wonderfully by Cheng Pei-Pei. No matter though, let’s get to what matters… is it a competent sequel?

The answer is a resounding yes. Princess Iron Fan doesn’t deal out anywhere near the amount of amazing FX and crazy visuals as The Monkey Goes West, but it does remain enjoyable throughout. Don’t worry though, you get your fair share of crazy shenanigans going on too. One of my favorite of these moments is when Monkey has to infiltrate Princess Iron Fan’s home to retrieve the only thing that can quell the flames impeding their journey, her iron fan. First he transforms into a three-inch tall version of himself and tickles his way through the serving girls to create a distraction. Then as the princess receives her scrumptious ginseng soup, he transforms into a fly and jumps in the bowl. He travels inside her stomach and then announces his presence. When the princess refuses to relinquish the fan, he hits her tender stomach walls with the end of his staff and performs ulcer-inducing somersaults. Her only recourse is to give in and my only option is to enjoy the shit out of this scene. I’ve seen tons of amazing and inventive sets from the Shaw Brothers, but the interior stomach is something completely fresh and very enjoyable.

Princess Iron Fan is a strong enough film on its own to win anyone over, but taken as a sequel it builds on The Monkey Goes West very well. It doesn’t flesh out the character of Sha Wujing (Sandy) at all though, but there’s still a couple of sequels to do that. I don’t need anything deep, but some explanation of him or a show of his powers would be nice. As of now he’s only the dude with the beard and the crescent moon staff. In any case, it’s clear that Monkey is and always will be the main character of these films. Even though he’s only a disciple to the Monk Tang on his quest for the Buddhist scriptures, it is Monkey’s journey that is the most interesting and easily relatable.

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