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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Brotherhood (1976)

Brotherhood [江湖子弟] (1976)

Starring Lau Wing, Woo Gam, Lily Li Li-Li, Wang Hsieh, Shut Chung-Tin, Chiang Tao, Cheng Miu, Chan Shen, Leung Seung-Wan, Fung Ging-Man, Yeung Chak-Lam, Keung Hon, Ngaai Fei, Shum Lo, Liu Wai, Lee Sau-Kei, San Kuai, Hao Li-Jen, Wong Ching-Ho, Ku Kuan-Chung, Bobby Canavarro, Yuen Biao

Directed by Hua Shan

Expectations: Excited to finally see a Hua Shan movie that isn’t Super Inframan.


Brotherhood is a great piece of entertainment, but as a cohesive film it’s a little less successful. It tells a story of Liao (Lau Wing), a man who becomes part of a powerful Hong Kong triad, but long stretches of the movie leave this character by the wayside to focus on the triad itself and the politics within. It shifts its focus so seamlessly that I honestly didn’t notice until it had been at least 15 minutes, but once the realization hit it was hard to ignore. The movie works its way back around to Liao, but the two stories aren’t intertwined well enough. When we rejoin Liao, he’s also evolved into a different type of person. I would have preferred to see the evolution, although with tons of movies that already do this, perhaps I should just enjoy Brotherhood for cutting out the middleman. In any case, I had some troubles with the film (that might be resolved with a re-watch), but none of them really hinder the film’s constant, high-value entertainment.

Liao Da-Jiang is a petty criminal pulling robberies with a group of three other guys. We enter the movie mid-jewelry heist, and unbeknownst to the criminals it is to be a pivotal moment in their lives. Liao is older than your typical juvenile delinquent, so Brotherhood felt like it could be the next step from that sub-genre of Hong Kong crime films. We can assume that Liao’s poor choices as a teenager led him to this moment, but as an adult the consequences are more lasting and serious. The twists and double crosses come fast and brutal in Brotherhood, and they eventually lead Liao to join the San He Tang triad. The triad is also experiencing a time of huge change, with its own share of brutal double crosses. The plot follows these two threads in fairly obvious ways, but as I mentioned, Brotherhood is always highly entertaining thanks to a couple of factors (namely the well-rounded cast, the harsh brutality of the violence, and the action choreographed by Yuen Woo-Ping and Yuen Cheung-Yan).

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Killer Clans (1976)

Killer Clans [流星蝴蝶劍] (1976)

Starring Chung Wah, Yueh Hua, Ku Feng, Ching Li, Wong Chung, Lo Lieh, Danny Lee, Yeung Chi-Hing, Cheng Miu, Ngaai Fei, Wang Hsieh, Lam Wai-Tiu, Chen Ping, Ling Yun, Fan Mei-Sheng, Teresa Ha Ping, Kong Yeung, Tin Ching, Cheng Kang-Yeh, Ku Kuan-Chung

Directed by Chor Yuen

Expectations: Super high. Been looking forward to these Chor Yuen wuxias for a long time.


In the lineage of Shaw Brothers wuxias, Killer Clans represents the dawn of a new paradigm. The number of wuxia films released by the studio had diminished considerably from the early days of the genre, when literally every martial arts film was a sword-swingin’ tale of chivalrous heroes. In the few years prior to Killer Clans, a good portion of the wuxias released by Shaw were actually holdovers from earlier years, finally released and then promptly forgotten. But Killer Clans, based on Meteor, Butterfly, Sword (流星·蝴蝶·劍), a 1973 novel by Gu Long, performed well enough to make the year’s box office top 10 (either #6 or #7, depending on the source).

To say that this new direction in wuxia filmmaking was a success is an understatement, but it almost never was. Like Chang Cheh, ever searching for a subject that would light the fires of passion, Chor Yuen felt stagnant and in need of a fresh style of film. Chor had abandoned wuxia filmmaking for Cantonese comedies (The House of 72 Tenants, etc.) and dramas (Sorrow to the Gentry, etc.), but the diminishing box office takings of these films demanded he look elsewhere for his film ideas. He decided to adapt some wuxia novels in a style unlike the traditional Shaw wuxia film, but Run Run Shaw rejected every one of his pitches saying that they wouldn’t make money.

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The Spiritual Boxer (1975)

The Spiritual Boxer [神打] (1975)
AKA Naked Fists of Terror, Fists from the Spirit World

Starring Wong Yu, Lin Chen-Chi, Kong Yeung, Shut Chung-Tin, Fung Hak-On, Lee Hoi-Sang, Ng Hong-Sang, Ngaai Fei, Chan Shen, Teresa Ha Ping, Chan Mei-Hua, Wong Ching-Ho, Keung Hon, Lee Sau-Kei, Shum Lo, Tin Ching, Chen Kuan-Tai, Ti Lung, Wilson Tong, Ho Kei-Cheong

Directed by Lau Kar-Leung

Expectations: High.


The Spiritual Boxer marks the directorial debut of one of the most influential figures in all of martial arts movie history: Lau Kar-Leung. Along with frequent partner Tang Chia, Lau began work at the Shaw studio choreographing Shaw’s first color martial arts film: Temple of the Red Lotus — a job they secured after pioneering Hong Kong’s first wirework in the Great Wall film The Jade Bow. Over the next 10 years, Lau’s collaborations with Chang Cheh resulted in a slew of iconic and lasting martial arts films that defined the genre. Lau’s goal throughout his film work was to bring more true-to-life representations of martial arts to the screen, and this ambition eventually led to Chang Cheh’s Shaolin Cycle of films. These films represented the closest Lau had come to realizing his dreams, and his strong, definite ideas led to a falling out with Chang Cheh during the filming of Disciples of Shaolin (though I’ve also seen it cited as being during Marco Polo, which Lau is not credited on). Producer Mona Fong then invited Lau Kar-Leung to return from Chang’s Film Co. in Taiwan to direct a movie of his own at the Shaw Brothers Studio in Hong Kong. Obviously, he took the offer and The Spiritual Boxer was the result.

The film begins near the end of the Qing dynasty with an intro showcasing the history of the “spiritual boxer,” a martial artist who could become invincible to all weapons after being infused with spirits of legend. Chen Kuan-Tai and Ti Lung make wonderful cameos as the spiritual boxers showing off their skills to the Empress Dowager Cixi, but the film isn’t about them, or this time, or even a spiritual boxer of the same ilk; it’s actually about a young apprentice, Hsiao Chien (Wong Yu), who travels the land with Master Chi Keung (Kong Yeung) performing spiritual boxing rituals. What their audiences don’t know is that they are just performers trying to earn a living from the reputation of the spiritual boxers, and when this trickery doesn’t go as planned it leads to much of the film’s conflict & comedy.

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Curse of Evil (1982)

curseofevil_1Curse of Evil [邪咒] (1982)

Starring Tai Liang-Chun, Ngaai Fei, Lily Li Li-Li, Lau Nga-Lai, Yau Chui-Ling, Eric Chan Ga-Kei, Wang Lai, Leung Tin, Angelina Lo Yuen-Yen, Wong Ching-Ho, Lau Siu-Kwan, Jason Pai Piao

Directed by Kuei Chih-Hung

Expectations: The poster is great and I love Kuei Chih-Hung, so I have high hopes.

twostar


There is a lot to like about Curse of Evil and its twisted family dynamic and ultra-gooey FX work. Unfortunately, the film is pretty hard to penetrate as the story is muddled and the characters are hard to keep track of. For instance there are a couple of pairs of siblings, but they both dress in the same clothes. I wasn’t really familiar with most of the actresses either, so as much as I feel dumb to say it, they all kinda ran together. But honestly, the writing of the individual characters isn’t strong enough to distinguish them from one another, so that’s really the main concern.

The story is one that requires an in-depth explanation of the past to make sense, and since this one’s only 78 minutes long, that means Curse of Evil opens with a big ol’ info dump. There was once a wealthy family, the House of Shi, but tragedy struck and bandits killed 13 members of the family. Their bodies were thrown into the mansion’s dry well and ever since then the remaining family members (only a mother and her infant son) have been cursed by the angered Dragon King. We pick up the film 20 years later, as Madam Shi is celebrating her 50th birthday. But, y’know there’s that Dragon King curse, so her son, now 20 years old, dies, along with his wife. This leaves their two daughters to be raised by Madam Shi. At this point the film jumps another 15 years, when the daughters are about 20-ish. Phew.

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