Heads for Sale (1970)

Heads for Sale [女俠賣人頭] (1970)

Starring Lisa Chiao Chiao, Chan Leung, Wang Hsieh, Helen Ma Hoi-Lun, Chen Yan-Yan, Fan Mei-Sheng, Cheng Miu, Cheng Lui, Chan Sing, Tung Li, Chai No, Hung Lau, Poon Oi-Lun, Yip Bo-Kam

Directed by Cheng Chang Ho

Expectations: Low, despite a great title.


Heads for Sale opens with a song. This is not generally a good sign, and it immediately made me think this would be a throwback film to the early days of the genre when it was all pageantry and colorful music numbers. Thankfully, this is not the case, but the film suffers horribly from disorganized storytelling and a cast of characters so large and broad that it becomes tedious to keep up with everyone. Just when you think they’ve thrown everything they can at you, Heads for Sale introduces four new villains about 12 minutes before the film ends. And these aren’t villains that the film has been alluding to throughout like ominous string-pullers lurking in the dark, they’re just four brothers looking for vengeance on two of their brothers killed earlier in the film. It’s never clear who their brothers are either, but I’m going to assume they were the two guys beheaded about halfway through the movie. So yeah, the storytelling isn’t as strong as it could be.

In any case, the story begins with Hua Bilian (Lisa Chiao Chiao) waiting patiently for word that Luo Hongxun (Chan Leung) will accept her hand in marriage. The thing is: Hua’s father has a bad reputation as a bandit, so no one wishes to marry Hua. When an emissary arrives with the bad news, Hua flips out, suits up and heads over to Luo’s home to settle the score. A woman scorned, and all that. What she’s not aware of is that Luo actually cares deeply for her, it’s his mother that said no and sent the emissary away empty-handed. Cue some misunderstandings, followed by a bunch of fights and you’ve pretty much got an idea of what Heads for Sale is all about.

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Raw Courage (1969)

Raw Courage [虎膽] (1969)
AKA Tiger’s Courage

Starring Cheng Pei Pei, Yueh Hua, Ng Fung, Lo Wei, Tien Feng, Poon Oi-Lun, Yeung Chi Hing, Ou-Yang Sha-Fei, Lee Kwan, Tong Jing, Lee Sau Kei, Go Ming, Goo Man-Chung, Hung Lau, Yee Kwan

Directed by Lo Wei

Expectations: Moderate. I have a bad feeling about this one.


My bad feelings were all for naught, as Lo Wei’s Raw Courage is a fun, rollicking little wuxia film. It’s not something that will create genre fans, nor is it anything truly substantial, but it is fantastic entertainment. Raw Courage tells the story of an emperor besieged by an army who entrusts his child to Lo Wei and his Black Dragon Clan. In virtually every other Shaw Brothers film from this period involving a baby, there’d be a twenty year jump in time and we’d pick up the story with the young martial artist out looking to find their destiny or avenge their fallen parents/master. In Raw Courage, the baby actually stays a baby as Cheng Pei-Pei and Ng Fung quickly find themselves in charge of taking the infant prince across the country to meet up with the White Dragon Clan. If trying to transport a baby through enemy checkpoints sounds like a good time, then Raw Courage is your barrel of monkeys.

There’s nothing too special about Raw Courage, other than its ability to rise above the standard wuxia storytelling and remain exciting and interesting throughout. There are loads of problems that contribute to the film being less than it should be, but honestly I only noticed after the film was over because I was having such a fun time with it. One of the major flaws is that the villains, while plentiful, aren’t nearly well-defined enough to make for compelling adversaries to our heroes. Tien Feng plays their leader, but basically sleepwalks through a role where his primary task is to walk from one place to another and say, “After them!” It’s hard to blame him. The villain introduced later in the film, a man with a blue-gray face known only as Old Monster, is awesome and really deserved more screen time too. It’s crazy villains like this that would later populate all kinds of wild and fantastic Hong Kong films, so I’m willing to forgive this one a bit just for including him.

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Dead End (1969)

Dead End [死角] (1969)

Starring Ti Lung, Li Ching, David Chiang, Chen Hung Lieh, Angela Yu Chien, Chen Yan-Yan, Goo Man-Chung, Fang Mian, Guo Hui-Juan, Cheng Miu, Poon Oi-Lun, Yip Bo-Kam

Directed by Chang Cheh

Expectations: High. I’m excited to see this one. Looks great.


For Chang Cheh’s fifth 1969 release (out of six), he decided to take another crack at a contemporary setting. Unlike the playful nature of The Singing Thief though, Dead End is a depressing, meandering take on the French New Wave style of film about troubled youths. It’s not a style you’d initially think of Chang Cheh tackling, but his solid track record should be enough to get asses in seats. Looking back on this film from the future, it also has the added distinction of being the first starring role for Hong Kong legend Ti Lung, as well as the first film to pair up the on-screen duo of Ti Lung and David Chiang, a team so successful at the box office that they, along with Chang Cheh, were known as the Iron Triangle. I wish I could tell you that this first team-up was something special, but unfortunately, at least for me, it was sorely lacking.

Ti Lung plays a young man employed as a typist by an insurance company. As the opening credits roll, it’s clear he hates his boring job. He turns in an assignment and then sullenly walks to the high-rise window, either taking a quick break to watch the traffic below or to contemplate jumping. It’s never made explicitly clear on purpose, but given the following film, I’d guess that both weren’t far from the truth. Where Ti finds no love in his work, he does enjoy hanging out with his mechanic friend David Chiang, and riding around in their old car affectionately called Old Master. The car is the means by which Ti Lung achieves childlike happiness, and one day it leads them to meet Li Ching, a rich girl stranded on the road next to her broken-down Mercedes-Benz coupe. As any film viewer can tell you, the troubled youth/rich girl romance is destined to end poorly and the tale in Dead End is no different.

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Killers Five (1969)

Killers Five [豪俠傳] (1969)

Starring Tang Ching, Li Ching, Ku Feng, Cheng Miu, Wang Kuang-Yu, Tang Ti, Yeung Chi Hing, Carrie Ku Mei, Ou-Yang Sha-Fei, Tien Feng, Lau Leung-Wa, Wong Ching-Wan, Poon Oi-Lun

Directed by Cheng Kang

Expectations: High. Cheng Kang usually delivers.


The Duke’s daughter has been kidnapped by bandits! Are you a bad enough dude to rescue the duke’s daughter? That’s the question asked of our heroes in Killers Five and the answer is a resounding yes. Killers Five is debatably the best martial arts/action film to be produced by the Shaw Brothers up to this point. It includes everything I could want in a movie, providing entertainment at every turn. I went in expecting fights and intrigue, but I also got fun & charismatic characters, wonderful performances, awesome traps, suspenseful thrills, shocking double-crosses, over-the-top gore and absolute sophistication behind the camera. This movie is just flat-out awesome.

Unlike so many 60s Shaw Brothers martial arts films, Killers Five doesn’t fuck around with lengthy plot exposition and slow-moving narrative. The duke’s daughter is kidnapped and within a minute or so, our main hero played by Tang Ching is on a quest to create a martial team badass enough to take on the evil bandit lord Jin Tianlong (Tang Ti) who’s taken the duke daughter to his fortress on Mt. Jinlong. The film takes on something of a Western vibe, or even The Seven Samurai, during this section as the hero travels around the countryside collecting the best people for the job.

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The Sword of Swords (1968)

The Sword of Swords [神刀] (1968)

Starring Jimmy Wang Yu, Li Ching, Tien Feng, Wong Chung-Shun, Cheng Miu, Shu Pei-Pei, Yeung Chi Hing, Lam Jing, Lee Wan Chung, Ou-Yang Sha-Fei, Lee Ho, Tang Chia, Chan Wan-Wa, Poon Oi-Lun, Shum Lo

Directed by Cheng Kang

Expectations: High. I’ve heard this is a good one.


The Sword of Swords is somewhat overlong and overly melodramatic, but it more than makes up for this with some of the best choreographed fights to come out of the Shaw Brothers studios up to this point. With the action directed by famous duo Tang Chia and Lau Kar-Leung, you know to expect something special and nearly every fight in the film delivers on that promise. The film is more than just fights though, and without the grounding that the drama provides, the fights wouldn’t be nearly as satisfying.

The sword of swords is a sword forged of the best metal and capable of turning the tide in any battle. It is such an incredible weapon that even a mere slice through the air creates a gale of wind to knock your opponent off-balance. The sword doesn’t get used much in the film, but when it does, director Cheng Kang does a great job of selling just how powerful it is with dutch angles and whooshing sound effects. Each swipe of the sword is meaningful and tense, and the fact that the characters choose not to use it when they could easily decimate their opponents is beside the point. Instead, the sword is the punctuation on the film, the object which everyone revolves around and something of its power would be lost if everyone was swinging it around willy-nilly.

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