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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Wheels on Meals (1984)

wheelsonmeals_posterWheels on Meals [快餐車] (1984)
AKA Spartan X, Million Dollar Heiress

Starring Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung, Yuen Biao, Lola Forner, Benny Urquidez, Keith Vitali, Pepe Sancho, Paul Chang Chung, Richard Ng, John Shum Kin-Fun, Wu Ma

Directed by Sammo Hung

Expectations: The highest.

fourstar


Wheels on Meals is an old favorite, but it’s one of those movies that slipped through the cracks and I haven’t seen it in over 10 years. In the intervening years many films have come and gone, leaving very little of my memories of this film intact, but that’s OK because watching it this time around was almost like seeing it again for the first time. And with a film as enjoyable as Wheels on Meals, that’s a real gift.

What’s interesting about Wheels on Meals is that on the surface it’s a very simple, almost storyless film. So much of the first half is just random antics and gags, and while they’re all incredibly entertaining, there isn’t a traditional drive to them like you expect a movie to have. But as the film progresses it becomes apparent that the film’s plotting is actually very tight, controlled and slowly bringing the pieces together. In a way it feels similar to the fight choreography of the film; it’s simply flawless.

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Downhill They Ride (1966)

DownhillTheyRide+1966-4-bDownhill They Ride [山賊] (1966)
AKA The Highjackers

Starring Pat Ting Hung, Paul Chang Chung, Wong Chung-Shun, Man Ling, Ou Wei, Wang Hsieh, Paul Wei Ping-Ao, Zhang De-Liang, Shum Lo, Ma Ying, Got Siu-Bo

Directed by Pan Lei

Expectations: Low.

twohalfstar


First things first: I was led to believe that Downhill They Ride was an early martial arts film from the Shaw studio, but instead it’s more of a drama with a lot of horses and guns. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it does make for some twisted expectations. On top of that, it is the first film in my small effort to mop-up some early, previously unavailable martial arts titles for my “I’m never going to finish this” chronological Shaw Brothers review series, so there’s part of me that wished I knew what it was beforehand so I could have just moved on to the next film.

Downhill They Ride may boast a screenplay from martial arts maestro King Hu, but this carries none of the usual gravitas or intense drama typical of his films. Perhaps it was on the page and director Pan Lei didn’t translate it, but I’m more of the mind that King Hu was simply still honing his skills. But considering that Downhill They Ride released only two months prior to Hu’s landmark martial arts film Come Drink With Me, that probably isn’t the case either. Whatever the truth is, I’d say that fans of King Hu’s work should definitely view this film as a stepping stone instead of a lost gem.

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Dragon Lord (1982)

DragonLord+1982-54-bDragon Lord [龍少爺] (1982)
AKA Dragon Strike

Starring Jackie Chan, Michael Chan Wai-Man, Suet Lee, Mars, Tien Feng, Paul Chang Chung, Tai Bo, Cheng Kang-Yeh, Anna Ng Yuen-Yee, Cheng Mang-Ha, Wu Jia-Xiang, Fung Fung, Ho Gaam-Kong, Whang In-Shik

Directed by Jackie Chan

Expectations: Moderate, but hopeful. I’ve somehow avoided seeing this until now.

twohalfstar


Every review of Dragon Lord written years after release probably calls it “the transitional film,” but I don’t care. Dragon Lord is Jackie Chan’s transitional film, bridging the gap between his early wuxia/kung fu comedy period and the death-defying stunts that would define his later work (and career). The end fight of Dragon Lord is really one of the first glimpses of the Jackie Chan that everyone knows, i.e. incredible choreography that seamlessly integrates the environment, crazy stunts that make you gasp and good ol’ fashioned fightin’. It’s just that Dragon Lord, being the transitional film, isn’t all that great on its own.

The main reason is that its story is a disjointed mess. So when I read that they began shooting the film without a script, and only a slight story gestating in Jackie’s head, it made perfect sense. A good portion of this movie is unrelated to the other parts in terms of story, so it’s best to try and watch the scenes for what they are instead of what they aren’t. For instance, there’s an extended sequence of Jackie and his buddies playing Jianzi, an Asian shuttlecock game played without hands like soccer. Being a Jackie movie there’s tons of fun choreography mixed into the game, and it’s an interesting scene to watch just on a human movement level. Does it relate to anything in the story, though? Nope, not really at all. But it does have the distinction of inspiring Stephen Chow’s Shaolin Soccer, so that’s something.

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Vengeance of a Snow Girl (1971)

VengeanceofaSnowgirl+1971-20-bVengeance of a Snow Girl [冰天俠女] (1971)
AKA A Daughter’s Vengeance

Starring Li Ching, Yueh Hua, Ku Feng, Tien Feng, Lisa Chiao Chiao, Paul Chang Chung, Wong Chung-Shun, Lee Kwan, Nau Nau, Lo Wei, Hsu Yu

Directed by Lo Wei

Expectations: Pretty low, but hopeful.

threestar


As I slowly approach 1972 and the real rise of the unarmed martial arts film, many of the films in 1971 have been significant in their own right. Vengeance of a Snow Girl is the final Lo Wei film for the Shaw Brothers, and it was released just two days before Golden Harvest released the film that could easily be called the most important film of Lo Wei’s career, The Big Boss. Yup, the film that gave the filmgoing world Bruce Lee, still one of the most popular figures in martial arts history. He’s like the Jimi Hendrix of the martial arts film world. He only finished a few works before his untimely death, but they continue to resonate. But Vengeance of a Snow Girl doesn’t star Bruce Lee, and, as far as I can tell, it didn’t set the world on fire like The Big Boss did. I’m sure the release date was timed specifically to undercut the performance of Golden Harvest’s The Big Boss, but clearly that plan (if it was a plan) backfired. I don’t think anything could keep people from loving Bruce Lee.

Vengeance of a Snow Girl tells the tale of Shen Ping Hong (Li Ching), an orphan on the warpath to kill the four men who murdered her parents in cold blood, and were in part responsible for the crippling of her legs. Yeah, that’s right, Li Ching plays a girl who can’t walk, but is on a mission of vengeance. Her kung fu is strong enough to allow her to fly and float around, and it also allows her to stay standing while she trades blows with her enemies. But before you get too excited about the entertainment prospects that this premise sets up, all four of her targets are all gathered together already, so instead of a rollicking quest around the countryside looking for these devious bastards, everybody just does a lot of talking about the girl that’s going to kill them.

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The Invincible Eight (1971)

TheInvincibleEight+1971-85-bStarring Nora Miao, Tang Ching, Angela Mao, Paul Chang Chung, Lee Kwan, James Tin Jun, Lydia Shum, Pai Ying, Patrick Tse Yin, Han Ying Chieh

Directed by Lo Wei

Expectations: Moderately high. I’m eager to see the film that launched Golden Harvest.

threestar


Sometime in 1970, Shaw Brothers executives Raymond Chow and Leonard Ho left the company to start up their own. They hoped to create a studio that would breed creativity instead of stifle it like they felt the Shaw Brothers did, and thus Golden Harvest was born. Many others defected from the Shaw camp as well, and on this film some of the notable people include director Lo Wei and martial arts choreographers Han Ying-Chieh and Sammo Hung. This focus on creativity isn’t so much in evidence in The Invincible Eight, but it does show itself over the studio’s history. And it was ultimately this focus that also allowed Golden Harvest to woo a young Bruce Lee away from a potential Shaw contract, writing martial arts film history when, later in 1971, Lo Wei directed the classic film The Big Boss.

With the short history lesson out of the way, I can now focus on The Invincible Eight. I had high hopes that this film would continue along the path of Lo Wei’s previous film Brothers Five, delivering creative, incredible martial arts action well ahead of its time. It succeeds in being entertaining, and being a fun wuxia film, but innovative it really isn’t. The Invincible Eight feels like it was made by a newly formed, upstart studio, as every single aspect of the production is a step down from the Shaw films from the same era. The film has tons of positives in its corner, but it’s hard to get past the fact that it would’ve been a lot more thrilling had it been made under the Shaw banner.

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